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Google’s traditionally sparse home page is delivering a surprise today: An ad for the company’s Nexus 7 Android tablet that pops up below the search box. The company has placed text ads for its products on its home page before, but this takes things to a new level, as an image of the Nexus  surfaces on the page with a quick and attention-grabbing animation.

The ad copy reads, “The playground is open. The new $199 tablet from Google.

Given the large number of eyeballs on the Google home page every day, the promotion promises to significantly raise the awareness of the Google tablet, which is going head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle Fire as a lower-priced alternative to Apple’s iPad.

Here’s the bigger question that popped up in my mind, given the various antitrust inquiries into Google in recent years: Is this fair? Taking into account Google’s dominance of the search business, should the company be allowed to leverage that position to benefit its move into a separate market?

Yes, I’ve probably spent too many hours studying Microsoft’s regulatory battles, but at a basic level, there seem to be some parallels here.

I’ve sent a message to Google asking if this home page position is now considered advertising inventory, available for purchase by other companies, as well. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Update:  A Google spokesman says via email, “We occasionally include a link or feature on the Google homepage that points users to a new product or service or a relevant cause. This isn’t new; for example, we ran a link on the homepage promoting a deal for a free Nexus S (with 2-yr plan) last year, and a promotion for Google+ when it came out of field trial as well, in addition to others.”

Here’s what the Google+ promotion looked like on the home page …

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