Motives questioned in Texas AG's Google inquiry

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 10, 2010, 11:00am


SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - A Seattle-based blogger and Google's general counsel are questioning whether Microsoft is pulling the strings in the Texas attorney general's office.

Google's methods for recommending websites are currently being reviewed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in an investigation spurred by complaints that the company has abused its power as the Internet's most dominant search engine.

An antitrust inquiry was disclosed by Google late last week. A spokesman for Abbott confirmed the investigation but declined to comment further.

According to Google, Abbott's office is seeking more information about allegations that have been levied against the company by UK-based Foundem, New York-based SourceTool and TradeComet, and Ohio-based myTriggers.

These websites offer specific search services. Foundem, for example, bills itself as "the U.K.'s top price comparison site." TradeComet's is a business-to-business directory with listings based on the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code. MyTriggers is a comparison-shopping engine that aggregates listings from eBay, Amazon and other sites.

Abbott's review appears to be focused on whether Google is manipulating its search results to stifle competition.

After the news broke, Google Deputy General Counsel Don Harrison wrote in a blog post that the three little-known search engines all have ties to Microsoft.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Nick Eaton, who covers Redmond-based Microsoft and the software industry, wrote in the newspaper's The Microsoft Blog that Microsoft, no stranger to antitrust investigations, essentially is Google's last remaining competitor in search.

Foudem is "backed by ICOMP, an organization funded largely by Microsoft," Harrison claimed in his post. He went on to tie TradeComet and MyTriggers to Microsoft because they use the same antitrust law firm as the Redmond-based company. Eaton says this is true, but that Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft -- based in Washington, D.C. -- is one of just a few large law firms that specialize in high-tech antitrust issues.

"Chances are, if you're an Internet company, your antitrust attorneys have done business with Microsoft," Eaton wrote.

On top of that, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Microsoft referred TradeComet to the law firm. MyTriggers noticed, called TradeComet and was referred to the same firm.

Additionally, Eaton reported that Microsoft representatives have told him numerous times that companies often call to get referrals to antitrust lawyers, and that Microsoft usually helps out.

"Yet all three companies contacted by the Texas AG have asserted their independence from Microsoft," Eaton wrote.

Google says its search results are tailored for Web users, not for Internet companies, and are powered by its successful algorithms. It has pointed out that competitors have their own agendas in filing antitrust complaints.

"And the big competitor, of course, is Microsoft," Eaton writes.

"It appears that our large competitors are injecting themselves into complaints by smaller firms against Google, likely in order to learn more about our business practices and use that information to develop a broader antitrust complaint against us," Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Eaton, in his lengthy blog post, goes on to question whether the three companies were the only ones contacted by the attorney general's office.

He also questions whether Harrison's claims are founded.

"Is Microsoft the puppetmaster in Texas?" Eaton writes. "Google says yes; Microsoft says no."

He concludes, "If Microsoft and Google are engaged in a war of Titans, Foundem, TradeComet and MyTriggers seem to be caught up in a war of spin."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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