This Week in Tech: Crunch time for FTC's Google probe

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The most significant issue in the government's investigation is whether Google is manipulating its search results to ensure that its own services, such as YouTube, Google Maps and Google Shopping, appear above its rivals.

Google's competitors, such as Microsoft, Kayak and Expedia, argue that the company shouldn't be allowed to use its dominant search engine — which has about a 67 percent market share — to stifle competition for other services.

Google says there is nothing unfair about its search rankings. Even if the results did boost Google products, the company says, it wouldn’t be illegal.

Observers doubt that a majority of the five commissioners are prepared to take aggressive action over the search bias complaints.

The FTC could still extract concessions from Google over its syndicated search agreements with other websites, its use of other companies' content in search results and its advertising restrictions.

The commission is also close to completing a separate investigation into whether Google is illegally blocking competitors' access to basic industry technologies. Google is required to license its "standard-essential" patents on a fair and reasonable basis, but it has sued other companies in recent months to block their use of the technologies.

In other tech happenings, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee could vote this week on President Obama’s nominees to the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Obama has nominated Democrat Mignon Clyburn for a second term at the FCC and Republican Joshua Wright, an economist and law professor, for a first term at the FTC.

Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, but a committee aide said it is unclear whether the senators will vote on the FTC and FCC picks.

Some committee Democrats, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.), voiced skepticism about Wright at his confirmation hearing earlier this month. They questioned his commitment to aggressively enforcing antitrust and consumer protection laws, and demanded that he reveal more information about companies that have funded his academic work.

But if Democrats try to block Wright, Republicans could retaliate by derailing other nominations.

On Monday morning, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation is sponsoring an event on the Hill that will examine the E-Government Act and its effect on the federal government over the past decade. The panel will feature Karen Evans, a former official for the Office of Management and Budget; David Mihalchik, the head of Google's Apps for Government team, and Dan Chenok, executive director of IBM's Center for The Business of Government, among others.

On Tuesday afternoon, former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley will discuss the future of FCC policymaking at the Hudson Institute.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will discuss what's on the horizon for the U.S. military at the National Press Club. He has identified cyberattacks as a leading national security threat in previous speeches.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer will join other Internet experts for a roundtable discussion hosted by the Internet Society to dissect the recent World Conference on International Telecommunications.

The United States refused to sign the conference's telecommunications treaty over fear that it would disrupt governance of the Internet and open the door to online censorship.

Kramer will be joined by Sally Wentworth, the Internet Society’s senior manager of public policy; Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge; and J. Beckwith Burr, chief privacy officer for Neustar. Paul Brigner, the Internet Society's North American regional bureau director, will moderate the panel.