Signaling a heightened new level of investigation, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this morning said it has hired a prominent trial lawyer to head its broad investigation into the business practices of search giant Google Inc.
In an official announcement picked up by the Associated Press in San Francisco, the FTC said former Department of Justice prosecutor Beth Wilkinson will head the commission’s deeper look-see into allegations that Google has been abusing its pre-eminent position in Internet search, stifling competition and driving up Internet advertising rates.
Currently a partner in a prominent Washington-based law firm, Wilkinson has experience in anti-trust law and corporate criminal cases.
Industry observers noted that Wilkinson’s hiring is a clear sign that the government trade agency has discovered problems that may require the filing of court cases against Google in order to resolve them.
Other legal experts said the presence of the veteran prosecutor may mean that the Federal Trade Commission felt that the investigation, which started a year ago, may result in litigation soon.
The probe into Google’s business lay-out began when complaints were aired regarding Google’s practice of highlighting its own peripheral services in its search results, pushing to the sidelines similar offers made by rival online companies.
The trade body is looking into charges that Google may have rigged its search results in such a way that Web advertisers are prodded to pay more to sell their products and services on the search giant’s massive network.
Google has not made any comment on Wilkinson’s hiring. It had earlier declared that it had done nothing wrong.