SAN FRANCISCO — Google may be entering a make-or-break phase in its colorful history now that U.S. regulators have opened an investigation into whether the company has been abusing its dominance of Internet search and advertising to stifle competition.
The probe by the Federal Trade Commission, confirmed by the company Friday, will require Google to convince regulators that its closely guarded recipe for search results is designed to give people the best recommendations, not bury links to its rivals.
If you search for a local business, for example, Google might highlight its own listing, from a service called Google Places, instead of one on Yelp, a popular review site and Google competitor.
Requests for directions may turn up Google Maps, and queries for a video might point to the company’s own site, YouTube. Or if you type “mortgage” in Google’s main search box, the top ad might be for Google Advisor, which lists the lowest interest rates.
The inquiry also is expected to peer into Google’s financial engine: the advertising links tied to the subject of each search request. Some of these commercial messages appear, shaded in color, at the top of the results page, while others are stacked in the right-hand column.