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Updated: Google Board Member Levinson Quits Amid Federal Probe Of Google-Apple Board Ties

Google announced Monday morning that its board member, Arthur Levinson, has left his seat as a director of the company amid a federal probe into potential anticompetitive ties between the boards of the search giant and Apple.

Levinson, who also serves on the board of Apple, has served on Google’s board since 2004. The former CEO of biotech firm Genentech remains on Apple’s board.

"Art has been a key part of Google's success these past five years, offering unvarnished advice and vital counsel on every big issue and opportunity Google has faced," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a release. "Though he leaves as a member of our Board, Art will always have a special place at Google."

Google did not give an explanation for Levinson's departure, which was effective immediately. But the move underscores the growing competitive tensions between long-time Silicon Valley allies, Google and Apple, as they jockey in the booming mobile phone market. Check out Silicon Alley Insider's take on the frienemies relationship. (Agree or disagree? Say so).

Both firms have mobile operating systems, search engines and voice services for cell phones. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission began a probe of the iPhone’s decision to deny Google Voice in its applications store. Google Voice is a call-routing and messaging service.

The announcement also comes amid growing federal scrutiny of Google, which is being probed by multiple agencies as it moves beyond search into news, digital books, and communications services. On Friday, the FCC began a review of Google Voice for blocking calls to rural areas. AT&T says the practice violates telecom laws. The FCC probe will look into whether Google Voice is a traditional phone service and should be regulated as such.

The Federal Trade Commission began its investigation into the board ties between the two companies last May. The regulatory agency charged with policing anti-competitive behavior said it would continue its investigation even after Google CEO Eric Schmidt left Apple’s board in August. At the time, the FTC said it would continue its investigation of board ties as Levinson continued to serve on both boards.

At the time of Schmidt's resignation from Apple's board, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the decision was mutual and made sense because Schmidt's effectiveness on the board, which he had served on for three years, "will be significantly diminished since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest."

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 12, 2009; 9:54 AM ET
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