The New York Times takes an in-depth look at Google, which has transformed from a search engine company to a multi-service corporation offering e-mail, location tracking, video, document-creation software, book archiving, mobile phones, and more.
Google says its mission is to give users the information theyâ€™re looking for even if that means giving its own content priority and de-emphasizing sites it believes offer poor experiences. â€œTelling a search engine that it cannot innovate and show results in a way that benefits users would undermine the very goals of our competition laws,â€ says Matthew Bye, a Google lawyer.
But the search giantâ€™s decisions on such matters may soon be judged by higher authorities. Over the last several years, it has become the canonical way to search the Web, an information doorway that dictates what kind of knowledge is visible to the browsing public. That growing market power has generated both sky-high profits and unwanted regulatory attention. […]
At the same time, Googleâ€™s own missteps have prompted a new round of scrutiny. This month, it admitted that its camera-equipped cars, which drive around photographing the worldâ€™s neighborhoods for Street View images within Google Maps, had inadvertently collected fragments of communications from people using unsecured WiFi networks. Privacy advocates howled, while the F.T.C. and regulators in Europe said they were looking into the matter. […]
Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission since last March, has shown his willingness to stand up to Google, most recently with the F.T.C.â€™s inquiry last year into the board-level relationships among Google and two of its rivals, Amazon and Apple. That investigation caused several prominent Silicon Valley business leaders, including Eric E. Schmidt, Googleâ€™s chief executive, to give up board seats at other companies. […]
Leading the Department of Justiceâ€™s antitrust division is Christine A. Varney, an assistant attorney general, who represented Netscape during the antitrust case against Microsoft over its practices promoting Internet Explorer. Ms. Varney has publicly said she thinks Google may merit antitrust scrutiny. […]
But Google itself may be giving regulators and legislators more reasons to take a closer look. Its collection of private data over WiFi networks followed a similar misstep in February over the Buzz social network, which publicly exposed the contacts of Gmail users with little warning.