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Google in 'regulatory crosshairs' as FTC weighs investigation

Google co-founder Larry Page must prove that his aloofness, rebellious streak and affinity for pursuing wacky ideas won’t alienate investors and lead the company astray. He’s taking over amid emerging threats from rapidly growing rivals and more vigilant regulators alike.

Virginia Mayo/AP

Shares of Google Inc. fell nearly 3 per cent Tuesday, following a Bloomberg report that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering an antitrust investigation of the company's dominance of the Web search industry.

A potential U.S. probe, which would come on top of an ongoing European antitrust investigation, underscores the increasing non-operational risks that Google is facing, said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.

"Google is definitely in the regulatory crosshairs," he said.

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Before deciding whether to launch such an investigation, the FTC is waiting for the Justice Department to decide whether it will challenge Google's planned $700 million purchase of airline ticketing software company, ITA Software Inc, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter

Google's stock was down 2.8 percent at $571 Tuesday afternoon on the Nasdaq.

News of the possible probe comes a day after Google co-founder Larry Page officially took the reins as CEO after a decade under Eric Schmidt. Schmidt is now executive chairman and will focus on government relations, among other duties.

Page's first day on the job was marked by the resignation of Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg. A Google spokesman said that Rosenberg had planned to leave the company in the next year or two, but decided to leave in the coming months since he could not make a long-term commitment to Page.

Gleacher & Company analyst Yun Kim said the uncertainty about the new regime at Google and the antitrust concerns were pressuring the stock.

"Having those negative headlines out there does not help," said Kim. "It keeps reminding investors that there are overhangs on the stock."

Google's dominance in search is inviting heightened regulatory scrutiny around the world.

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The Internet giant, which runs the world's most popular search engine, has been under investigation by the European Commission since last November.

Last week rival Microsoft Corp filed a formal complaint with European antitrust regulators, claiming that Google systematically thwarts Internet search competition.

Google said in an emailed statement that "competition is one click away on the Internet," and that the company works hard to put its users' interest first and to give them the best search results.

A representative for the FTC said the commission had no comment.

The FTC and the Justice Department share responsibility for investigating antitrust claims and could negotiate which agency would lead a major investigation into Google, Bloomberg said.

The Justice Department could soon announce its decision on Google's purchase of ITA, the people familiar with the matter told the news agency.

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