An investigation into the antitrust implications of a two-week trial that has seen Google and Yahoo! share some of their advertising and search business has been launched by the justice department in the US.

Both firms have claimed that they informed the justice department with information about the trial before the start of the two-week test, which ends this week, Reuters reports.

The test sees Yahoo! users be shown adverts from Google’s online marketing system, based on their searches.

But concerns that such a system violates antitrust laws have been raised by the justice department and a source told Reuters that an investigation has begun.

The source, who spoke to the news agency on condition of anonymity, said that the concern arose from a telephone call between the chief executives of the two search engine companies where Google offered help in overcoming the Microsoft takeover bid.

Another unnamed sourced told the news agency that concern centred on a longer-term deal between the two firms.

If the two firms do join forces for their search engine marketing and advertising operations, they would be able to increase prices for advertising services, a law teacher at the University of California at Irvine, Philip Bromiley, told the news agency.

He noted that with a combined market share of around 80 per cent, antitrust concerns were valid.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the government department would say nothing more than that the authorities were aware of the situation.

The test being run by the two firms covers a maximum of three per cent of Yahoo’s search pages within the US.

According to Search Engine Land, the move may have been made because website marketing through Google’s ads generate more revenue than those that appear as paid search adverts through Yahoo.

Whether or not the trial will be extended beyond these initial two weeks – and what course of action the department of justice decides to pursue – remains to be seen.

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