RealTime IT News

Higher Antitrust Bar For Yahoo-Google

Yahoo's (NASDAQ: YHOO) attempt to form an alliance with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to stave off Microsoft Corp. could run into more trouble with antitrust regulators than Microsoft's unwelcome takeover bid.

While Yahoo is seeking a business partnership with Google -- unlike the outright merger that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) wants -- legal experts say any deal between the world's two largest Internet search services will draw heavy scrutiny from U.S. and European competition regulators.

"The Justice Department would certainly want to take a serious look at that because it would mean that a firm that would want to take advertisements or to place advertisements [online] would have only one place to go," said Aaron Edlin, who teaches law and economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

In recent years, Web search services have taken over from once popular portals or home pages, such as AOL, MSN or Yahoo's own home page, as the primary starting point for many consumers seeking information on the Internet.

Google held a 59.2 percent share of the U.S. Web search market in February, compared with Yahoo's 21.6 percent and Microsoft's 9.6 percent, according to research firm ComScore (NASDAQ: SCOR).

To counter that dominance, Microsoft offered in January to buy Yahoo in a cash-and-stock deal now valued at $42 billion.

Yahoo rejects that price as too low and has been casting around for other partners. It announced last week a test to outsource search advertising to Google, which sources say is part of Yahoo's plans to form a three-way alliance with Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) AOL to fend off Microsoft.

Antitrust experts said regulators would likely oppose any permanent alliance between Google and Yahoo, while they would likely approve Microsoft's proposed merger with Yahoo.

"A Yahoo-Microsoft merger would primarily be designed to attack Google," said Thomas Hazlett, who teaches law and economics at George Mason University in Virginia. "What you're seeing here is the sort of merger that has ... a plausible efficiency case."