US Justice Department Mulls Google-Yahoo Antitrust Action

11 September 2008

WASHINGTON, DC: Hard on the heels of vociferous opposition by the Association of National Advertisers, the proposed search-ad romance between Google and Yahoo could also fall foul of the US Justice Department.

According to USA Today, senior antitrust lawyer Sanford Litvack has been retained by the DoJ to review evidence as to the legality of the imminent Google-Yahoo relationship.

Although the DoJ refused to comment on the report, the hiring of a figure as senior as Litvak – who headed the Department's antitrust division during the Carter administration – signals "a very serious investigation … in the league of [the DoJ's investigations of] Microsoft."

That's the judgement of Scott Cleland, president of techcom analysts Precursor, who opines that "this deal is about price fixing".

He bases that view on market share, noting that Google and Yahoo between them command 85% of the US online search market; 90% of search advertising revenue; and 99% of profits.

The partnership – if it clears the antitrust hurdle – is slated to go live next month. A regulatory challenge, however, could delay inking the deal until next year. Even deliver a coup de grace. 

News of Litvak's involvement caused Yahoo shares to tumble 68 cents to $17.58.

  • EU Leans On Google Over Data Retention 
    MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Hands aloft in saintly innocence, Google insists that respect for its users' privacy is "fundamental to earning and keeping their trust". 

    Curious, then, that the search giant should ignore the recommendation of a European Commission advisory body that it delete all personal data from its millions of user records within six months of capture.

    Google currently stores information from each and every query conducted via its search engines worldwide, including specific details of the search query, the searcher's unique IP number [PC address] plus details as to how he/she makes their searches and the web browser used.

    It claims this information is necessary both to improve its services and counter threats such as fraud, spam and malicious attacks.

    But there are sinister undertones to another justification: that this personal information is necessary to aid "valid legal orders" from law enforcement agencies. Yo, CIA, Mossad and MI5! 

    Meantime, as the personal data accrues at a billion bytes per millisecond, the privacy-respecting search titan has lifted a contemptuous pinkie to the EC's recommendation that it should delete this personal data within six months of acquisition.

    Instead, says Google, it will 'anonymise' identifiable IP addresses on its server logs after nine months; or in non-Googlespeak, sever the data from the individual.

    What might or might not happen to that data thereafter – for example whether it can be reconnected – is  not specified. 

    The sixth of Google's ten much-vaunted business principles: "You can make money without doing evil."

  • Data sourced from USA Today and BBC Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff