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Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 09/12/2012

Could Facebook help Google’s antitrust problem?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 conference on Sept. 11 in San Francisco. (Max Morse - Getty Images)

It seemed like a shot across the bow at Google: Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that his social network is working on building its search business, noting that it already gets about 1 billion search queries a day.

But could Facebook’s entry into search help Google as it defends itself in an antitrust probe about its practices as the dominant search engine?

Possibly, some analysts say. The Federal Trade Commission in the past has been sensitive to the swift changes in the tech sector. In 2010, it approved Google’s acquisition of AdMob, a mobile advertising network, in part because during its investigation Apple announced that it was launching a rival mobile ad network.

“To the FTC’s credit, they seem to recognize the fluidity of technology markets,” said Paul Gallant, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities. “So things like Facebook’s push into search and Bing’s personalizing of search results should help Google defend itself in the antitrust investigation.”

The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating Google’s search practices, which rivals say gives preferential treatment to Google’s travel, maps, food and other business. Analysts following the investigation estimate, however, that the probe is nearing completion. European competition regulators are in negotiations with Google on changes to its search practices to address antitrust concerns.

It may be late, but FTC officials may have to consider the role of Facebook as it becomes a key entry point for users to search for information on the Web, Gallant said.

Zuckerberg’s focus on search and mobile have given renewed faith in the firm. Facebook’s stock is up 6 percent on Wednesday to $20.59.

“Facebook is uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have,” Zuckerberg said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. He said he has a team working on enhancing its search functions. “At some point, we’ll do it,” he said.

(Disclosure: The Washington Post. Co. Chairman Donald Graham sits on the board of Facebook).


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By  |  11:09 AM ET, 09/12/2012

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