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The Wall Street Journal says the FTC is about to launch a wide-ranging antitrust probe aimed at Google’s core search business. Prior examinations were smaller, focused around mergers and deals. As Matthew Ingram points out, investigations can hurt a company even if they don’t pan out. Microsoft did a pretty good job compartmentalizing its defense so that senior execs weren’t completely distracted from running their business. But while Microsoft was the “evil empire” to many Silicon Valley digerati, it always had a solid brand reputation among consumers, at least until Bill Gates was testifying on TV. Similarly, I’ve done research that showed that Google was consumers’ favorite online brand. That status could be at risk.