Ad giant Google is facing an antitrust probe intended to establish whether it exploits its dominance in the advertising trade to steer customers away from rivals' products.
According to a Bloomberg report, the US Federal Trade Commission is in the preliminary stages of an investigation, which may not develop into a full-blown public inquiry.
The Chocolate Factory looms large in the $17.7bn display ads industry in America, but FTC investigators want to know whether Google exploits its power to push companies towards using more of its own services, something which is illegal under antitrust laws.
Google stands accused of allegedly using its DoubleClick system to push advertising buyers into using other Mountain View-owned products.
Neither Google nor the FTC have commented on the matter.
As news of the probe circulated yesterday, Google's stock fell by 1 per cent to close at $882.79, down $6.63.
Google has already agreed to change the way it does business in Europe, after it was alleged the Chocolate Factory abused its search dominance. Rivals had one month from April 25 to respond to the proposed changes.
Google is also being probed over its use of standard-essential patents owned by Motorola Mobility, which Mountain View owns.
In January, the FTC cleared Google of weighting search results to nobble its competitors.
The FTC investigation followed complaints from a suite of competitors including Microsoft and Trip Advisor. In a letter, the founders of Foundem told the FTC that Google used "anticompetitive search manipulations [to] lay waste to entire classes of competitors in every sector where Google chooses to deploy them". ®