The two ranking members from each party on the Senate subcommittee on antitrust and competition, Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), wrote a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the business practices of Google, and how it uses dominance in search to promote its other products.
Their request is the result of their own inquiry into the matter, in which Google Chairman Eric Schmidt testified back in September of this year. In that hearing Schmidt responded, when asked if Google was a monopolist of the search industry, "We are in that area."
Any discussion of technology and antitrust investigations brings up obvious references to Microsoft's now famous fight against the Department of Justice during the 1990s, for utilizing it's monopoly of desktop operating systems to advance its Internet properties. This was something probably not lost on Schmidt who during his testimony in September pointed out, as reported in the Washington Post, "We get it. We get the lessons of our corporate predecessors."
In their letter, they ask the FTC to investigate if Google can still be considered an unbiased provider of information when they have an assortment of properties that they've purchased or developed to aid in the promotion of their advertising business. The letter points out that Google results tend to favor their other properties like Google Maps, Google Finance, Google News and YouTube, and that in recent years they've been very successful at displacing the previous market leader in those areas. As evidence of bias they point out that in 2007, Google's own Marissa Mayer, Vice President of their location offerings, did preference their own websites because "it only seems fair, right?"
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman had previously testified to the subcommittee that 75% of their traffic currently comes from Google directed searches, but indicated that this is only because of the service's current popularity in comparison to even Google's own Local service and that given Google's current practice he probably wouldn't launch his business in today's environment.