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The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Antitrust'

Friday, January 04

Closing the Books on Google

By Brad

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission closed its antitrust investigation of search giant Google.  At Politico, Tony Romm examines how the company “beat the feds.”

Instead of ignoring Washington — as rival Microsoft did before its costly monopolization trial in the 1990s — Google spent about $25 million in lobbying, made an effort to cozy up to the Obama administration and hired influential Republicans and former regulators. The company even consulted with the late Robert Bork and The Heritage Foundation and met with senators like John Kerry to make its case. In other words, these traditional outsiders worked the system from the inside.

This calculated and expensive charm offensive paid off Thursday when the Federal Trade Commission decided not to challenge the company’s dominance of the Internet search business in court and settled the investigation with what critics allege is a slap on the wrist.

One of those critics of the decision, Microsoft Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner, called the FTC’s investigation a “missed opportunity” on the company’s blog Technet:

As we know from experience, one of the litmus tests of any antitrust outcome is the set of statements made by a company on the day that the outcome is announced. Has the company truly learned from the experience? Does it acknowledge that its practices raise serious antitrust issues?

In response to a question at his press conference today, Chairman Leibowitz said that he doesn’t believe that Google will be emboldened by today’s FTC decisions. But Google seems to be walking with a new spring in its step today. As Google’s official statement on its public blog today put it, “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”

In other words, there appears to be no reason, despite the FTC’s optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace.


Thursday, June 23

Today in Legalities

By Brad

Looks like two tech giants may soon have (new) legal hurdles ahead of them. First up, Google, which Thomas Catan of the Wall Street Journal reports, is about to receive more government attention:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is poised to serve Google Inc. with civil subpoenas, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling the start of a wide-ranging, formal antitrust investigation into whether the search giant has abused its dominance on the Web.

The five-member commission is preparing to send Google the formal demands for information within days, the people said. Other companies are also likely receive official requests for information about their dealings with Google at a later stage, they said.

Meanwhile, Apple could soon be facing government scrutiny of its own — only not here in the States. Via John Ribeiro at PC World:

Apple may face scrutiny from an Indian regulator for alleged anticompetitive behavior in connection with iPhone 4 sales in India.

A Competition Commission of India official said on Wednesday that a case was filed against Apple about a month ago. The complaint alleges that the company violated competition law by selling the iPhone 4 through only two mobile operators, Bharti Airtel and Aircel.

Tuesday, April 05

Getting Attention From the FTC

By Brad

Via Jeff Bliss and Sara Forden of Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission may be launching an antitrust investigation into Google:

An FTC investigation of Google, the world’s most popular search engine, “could be on par” with the scope of the Justice Department’s probe of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) a decade ago, said Keith Hylton, an antitrust law professor at Boston University School of Law. Google “could fight the FTC, but that’s going to cost a lot of money and time.”

The investigation would center around Google’s massive share in the search business. Last week, Microsoft urged the European Union to launch a similar antitrust investigation into its rival in search.

Thursday, March 31

Giant vs. Giant

By Brad

Microsoft (which knows a thing or two about antitrust cases) is accusing Google of antitrust violations and is asking the European Union to investigation. Reports Steve Lohr of the New York Times:

The litany of particulars in Microsoft’s complaint, the company’s lawyers say, includes claims of anticompetitive practices by Google in search, online advertising and smartphone software. But a central theme, Microsoft says, is that Google unfairly hinders the ability of search competitors — and Microsoft’s Bing is almost the only one left — from examining and indexing information that Google controls, like its big video service YouTube.

Such restraints, Microsoft contends, undermine competition — and thus pose a threat to consumer choice and better prices for online advertisers.

Wednesday, March 16

Antitrust Laws and Net Neutrality

By Brad

At The Hill, Sara Jerome reports that Senator Al Franken — one of the staunchest net neutrality supporters on Capitol Hill — is going to introduce a bill making net neutrality violations outright unlawful:

Franken said in a speech at the South by Southwest conference on Monday that he is planning legislation that would amend antitrust laws to “call violations of net neutrality out for what they are: anti-competitive actions by powerful media conglomerates that represent violations of our anti-trust laws.”

Friday, March 11

Looking at Google

By Brad

At Politico, Mike Zapler reports on a new effort to place online search/advertising Google on the regulatory hot seat:

Media consolidation, net neutrality and Google’s dominance in Internet search are among the issues the Senate’s leading legislator on antitrust issues plans to scrutinize in the months ahead.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who heads the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, listed those issues as priorities in an announcement Thursday outlining his top concerns for the 112th Congress.

Kohl specifically called out Google as a potential cause for concern. The senator in December urged the Justice Department to conduct a “careful review” of the search giant’s attempted acquisition of travel search software firm ITA.

“In recent years, the dominance over Internet search of the world’s largest search engine, Google, has increased and Google has increasingly sought to acquire e-commerce sites in myriad businesses,” Kohl said in a news release.

Wednesday, May 26

Bad News, Good News

By Brad

The New York Times is reporting the Justice Department is digging into possible digital music shenanigans:

In March, Billboard magazine reported that Amazon was asking music labels to give it the exclusive right to sell certain forthcoming songs for one day before they went on sale more widely. In exchange, Amazon promised to include those songs in a promotion called the “MP3 Daily Deal” on its Web site.

The magazine reported that representatives of Apple’s iTunes music service were asking the labels not to participate in Amazon’s promotion, adding that Apple punished those that did by withdrawing marketing support for those songs on iTunes.

It’s not all bad news for Apple this morning, however. As TechCrunch notes, Steve Jobs’ little company has just passed none other than Microsoft in market cap — at least for the time being.

Wednesday, April 21

Going After Google

By Brad

When it comes to the increasingly lucrative realm of online advertising, there’s little doubt that Google dominates. And as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, that domination isn’t sitting well with a consumer group:

Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica group that’s proving a perpetual thorn in the side of Google Inc., plans to call on the Justice Department to launch an antitrust action against the search giant and seek remedies including a possible break up.

The consumer organization, which secured grants from the Rose Foundation of Oakland specifically to investigate Google’s privacy practices, plans to make the announcement at a press conference titled “The Antitrust Case Against Google” in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

We, as an organization, have concluded that there’s enough evidence on the table to warrant this, to go beyond the reactive steps that the regulatory agencies have followed up until now,” said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.

That’s not the only headache headed for the online giant. Yesterday, officials from 10 countries — including Germany, Canada, and France — sent a letter to Google expressing concerns over the company’s privacy efforts, specifically the botched February launch of Google Buzz, their entry into microblogging. From the letter (PDF):

[W]e are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications. We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws. Moreover, this was not the first time you have failed to take adequate account of privacy considerations when launching new services.

The privacy problems associated with your initial global rollout of Google Buzz on February 9, 2010 were serious and ought to have been readily apparent to you.

The Google mantra has always been “Don’t be evil.” But as with any company, the bigger you are the more you are in the crosshairs. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, Google has increased its federal lobbying spending by 57% in the first quarter of this year alone.

Thursday, February 25

King of the Hill

By Brad

Earlier in the week, word surfaced that the European Union would be conducting an antitrust investigation into Google. While it turns out the investigation talk was premature — the EU has released a statement clarifying no investigation is happening yet — GigaOm believes that trouble could be coming soon for Google:

The bigger question, of course, is whether Google deserves to be the subject of an antitrust investigation — whether in the European Union or anywhere else — and the uncomfortable answer is that it probably does (Google has also been more than happy to egg regulators on when Microsoft was the target). That’s not to say the company should be subjected to a five-year-long saga of drawn-out court challenges and posturing by federal authorities and regulators, the way Microsoft was. It’s simply a recognition of the fact that Google is a very different company now than it was even three or four years ago. Its market power is almost unparalleled, particularly in search-related advertising, which is to the web economy what steam power was to the industrial revolution.

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