FTC hires hotshot lawyer for Google antitrust probe
Paves way for courtroom showdown with Larry Page
Google could face court action over its business practices, after the US consumer watchdog – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – appeared to step up its antitrust scrutiny of the company on Thursday.
The FTC reportedly hired a well-known outside litigator in a move that could indicate the Chocolate Factory might land up in court.
According to the New York Times, US regulators have signed up the services of erstwhile Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, who is considered to be a hotshot trial lawyer.
She was a prominent litigator in the conviction of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Her hiring by the FTC does not necessarily mean a formal case will be brought against the ad giant, however.
Regulators at the FTC formally began investigating allegations that Google favours its own search products over those of its rivals in June 2011.
A similar but separate probe into Google's business practices has been underway in Brussels since November 2010. But regulators on this side of the pond are yet to conclude on their findings.
The Register learned yesterday that any such response has been pushed back to just before the European Commission's summer break.
The "natural next step" – if those conclusions are damning for Google – would be a Statement of Objections, a spokeswoman at the office of Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said, but declined to be drawn on whether an SO would indeed be issued.
Sources had suggested that a 400-page document would land on the lap of Google CEO Larry Page by the end of the first quarter.
Almunia's spokeswoman noted that the EC had "no legal deadline" to issue its conclusion of the investigation into allegations that Google stifles competition by favouring its own search products.
Likewise, the FTC – which has brought in outside lawyers only twice in the last decade, according to the NYT report – could be many months away from the possibility of filing a lawsuit against Google. ®
What is it about?
This is strange, maybe I didn't read something important, but what is this case about? "Regulators at the FTC formally began investigating allegations that Google favours its own search products over those of its rivals in June 2011.". Isn't it a normal situation to favour own product rather than others?
Re: What is it about?
I am finding a lot of my searches these days tend to turn up items that have as much to do with distinctly different subjects -that I just happened to search for in recent history.
I find that very irritating.
As for Google being Google-centric that is something similar in that it limits my search parameters.
What I don't like about the person doing the dirty on Google is the woman who dropped the dime on McVeigh.
"She was a prominent litigator in the conviction of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Her hiring by the FTC does not necessarily mean a formal case will be brought against the ad giant, however."
Apparently he kept his mouth shut when they found diesel and fertiliser on the farm he shared with his brother. That sounded very suspicious to me. It was a dot more to the Americanistanis though.
Did he live anywhere near Ruby Ridge or Waco?
What is a rubber stamper like Mz Wilkinson looking at Google for?
Is it to give them a carte blanche whilst we are looking the other way?
Re: What is it about?
"Isn't it a normal situation to favour own product rather than others?" It is and, at least, Bing does the same thing. Not sure about Baidu.
There are two categories of complaints associated with this: 1.) the blurbs on the top of the search results (like Google maps link, stock ticker info, definitions for words, shopping, etc) and 2.) unfair manipulation of result ranking (there was a British site in particular that had a complaint on this and was written about here multiple times but I can't seem to find the name). There are plenty of other complaints against Google of course, that are not involved with this specific group of cases.
From a US legal standpoint, on the first point the question is if these other "blurb" results are separate products - if so they could be guilty of bundling (i.e. using a monopoly in one market to force users into using company's product in another market - which is what Microsoft was found guilty of with IE). On the second point there is no clear complaint under US anti-trust laws (AFAIK), and outside of anti-trust there are no specific laws governing web search companies (AFAIK at least) so the second point may not have legs here.
Under EU anti-trust law the litmus test is "anti-competitive behavior"... which could cover both areas.
That's the argument at least - I didn't say I agree :) Oh, and IANAL and all either.
Go FTC, please remind Google that they have to obey the law and not steal information without user consent and conduct business anti-competitively.
Hopefully they can [finally] do something about these companies ignoring the law.