Latest Google Deal Draws More Regulatory Scrutiny

AdMob acquisition, search results for local businesses latest issues amidst anti-competitive concerns

In the last year, Google has increasingly run up against concerns of anti-competitive business practices.

First came the potential deal to sell advertising alongside Yahoo's search results, which regulators frowned upon as giving Google far too much of a market share in online search advertising. Yahoo ended up getting in bed with former anti-trust target Microsoft, instead.

Then came an ongoing investigation into the incestuous relationships between executives at Google, Apple and Genentech and those company's boards of directors, with Google CEO Eric Schmidt finally resigning from Apple's board.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is asking for more details on the planned acquisition of mobile advertising company AdMob by Google for $750 million. While it's unlikely that the FTC will block the deal, it's a sign that Google's moves are under increasing scrutiny.

The talk of a Google purchase of Yelp also has some companies worried about the Internet search giant, which commands a 65 percent share of online searches, and its practice of highlighting results from its own products in searches.

Specifically, Google has increasingly been promoting its own stable of sites and products in its search results, such as Place Pages that come up when users search for local businesses.

The pages show a business's location plotted on Google Maps, and while it shows snippets of reviews from sites like Yelp, CitySearch, TripAdvisor and OpenTable, it may mean that fewer users click through to other sites, keeping the user in Google's ecosystem and looking at ads presented by Google.

"Google is putting all these pieces together in an interesting and kind of scary way," market researcher Greg Sterling mused to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jackson West is worried that Google's moves in local ads will make it difficult if not impossible for locally focused online news startups to earn revenue.

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