Senior Republican calls for reopening of Google probe

Senator Orrin Hatch urged the US Federal Trade Commission to reopen its antitrust review of Google which was closed in 2013 (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - A senior Republican senator on Thursday urged US regulators to reopen an antitrust investigation into Google, citing "important developments" since the review was closed in 2013.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah called on the Federal Trade Commission "to reconsider the competitive effects of Google's conduct in search and digital advertising."

Lawmakers have no official role in determining how the independent agency manages its investigations, but Hatch's call comes amid growing complaints from some activist organizations and following a series of antitrust investigations targeting Google in the European Union.

Hatch said he was concerned about "purportedly anticompetitive conduct" by Google cited in a recent report on the CBS program "60 Minutes," and other reports that Google "decided to remove from its platforms legal businesses that the company apparently does not agree with."

"There have also likely been other important changes to the market in the five years since the close of the FTC's investigation, including the shift to mobile platforms," Hatch said in his letter to FTC chairman Joseph Simons.

Hatch stated that "Google does have a long track record of providing valuable services and making important, innovative contributions. But much has changed since the FTC last looked at Google's conduct regarding search and digital advertising."

Google has also been a target of President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers who allege the search giant suppresses conservative voices.

In January 2013, the FTC found no evidence that Google unfairly preferences its own content on its search results page and demotes its competitors' content.

The regulators added they "have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties."

Then-FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said at the time, "While not everything Google did was beneficial, on balance we did not believe that the evidence supported an FTC challenge to this aspect of Google's business under American law."

In the most recent case in Europe, the EU in July slapped a record 4.34-billion-euro ($5.04 billion) antitrust fine on Google, saying it illegally used its Android operating system to strengthen the dominance of its search engine.