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Consumer Group to Call for Google Break up

Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica group
that’s proving a perpetual thorn in the side of Google Inc., plans to
call on the Justice Department to launch an antitrust action against the
search giant and seek remedies including a possible break up. 

The consumer organization, which secured grants from the Rose Foundation of Oakland
specifically to investigate Google’s privacy practices, plans to make
the announcement at a press conference titled “The Antitrust Case
Against Google” in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“We, as an organization, have concluded that there’s enough evidence
on the table to warrant this, to go beyond the reactive steps that the
regulatory agencies have followed up until now,” said John Simpson of
Consumer Watchdog.

To be sure, the Justice Department doesn’t take direction from
consumer groups, but the announcement comes at a moment when antitrust
pressure is building against Google
of Mountain View on many fronts.

The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly assembling a team to
prepare a possible legal challenge of Google’s proposed acquisition of
mobile ad network AdMob. The Department of Justice raised antitrust
concerns with the proposed Google Books settlement. European antitrust
regulators are looking into charges that Google unfairly ranks
competitors in its search results, the subject of private lawsuits as
well.

Separately, on Tuesday, officials from 10 countries, including
Canada, France, Germany and the U.K., issued
a letter
to Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, raising concerns
the company’s privacy policies.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a press inquiry from The
Chronicle. But it has defended its practices in the past, arguing
they’re designed with the interests of consumers in mind.

Also participating in the Wednesday press conference will be: Gary
Reback, the prominent Silicon Valley attorney who is credited with
spearheading the antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. and is actively
working against the Google Books deal; and Joseph Bial, a lawyer with
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who is representing TradeComet and
myTrigger in lawsuits that allege anti-competitive behavior by Google.

Reback — who is working for Google competitors including Microsoft
and Amazon through the Open
Book Alliance
— stopped short of saying Google should be broken up,
but did say that a government probe is clearly warranted.

“Everyday that goes by that there’s not a formal investigation, there
seems to be more and more complaints and greater and greater problems,
especially in Silicon Valley,” he said.

Reback said one of his chief concerns is that Google’s search engine,
despite company claims to sort online content objectively, seems to
increasingly favor Google content over that of competitors. Searches for
music, locations and restaurants frequently return high results to
company services like YouTube, Google Maps and Place Pages.

“Google is the way that most people get onto the Internet,” Simpson
said. “What Google decides determines where people will go and what kind
of experience they’re going to have. We think that, because of that,
it’s the case that Google is virtually a public utility and it really
needs some kind of regulation.”