WSJ Report Suggests Intervention In FTC Google Investigation By White House

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FTC Members Regret Release of Documents in Google Antitrust Probe.

Frequent meetings between Google executives and Federal Trade Commission officials are raising questions about the FTC’s 2013 decision to drop an antitrust probe against the company. The document, which was at the center of a report by The Wall Street Journal, indicated that key staff members at the FTC were in favor of suing Google for allegedly breaking antitrust law. According to visitor logs and emails reviewed by the WSJ, Google employees have met with senior officials at the White House about 230 times, “an average of roughly once a week,” since Obama took office.

The agency settled with the search and advertising company in early 2013. “Contrary to recent press reports, the commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel,” the commissioners said. Obama took office,” just one-third as many times as a single lobbyist for Google. (RELATED: FTC Concludes Google Investigation Amidst Lack of Evidence of Unfair Practices) In a press release Wednesday, Net Competition Chairman Scott Cleland said, “the amount of special access Google has to the highest reaches of the U.S.

The agency said that it regretted the release of the documents, which were confidential and should not have been included in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The agency notes in its memo that a bipartisan group of commissioners agreed that there was no “legal basis for action with respect to [search]” at the time, as its view was that Google’s search activities “were not, ‘on balance, demonstrably anticompetitive.’” The FTC conducted an extensive investigation into allegations that Google had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical websites and unfairly promote its own competing vertical properties, a practice commonly known as “search bias.” […] [T]he FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users. Government’s business may not be ‘conducted with impartiality and integrity’ as required under Federal ethics rules.” Google spokeswoman Niki Christoff indicated that the meetings were innocuous, telling the WSJ that, “we think it is important to have a strong voice in the debate and help policy makers understand our business and the work we do to keep the Internet open, to build great products, and to fuel economic growth.” Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman, offered a similar explanation, saying, “White House officials meet with business executives on a range of issues on a regular basis … [and] our staff is cognizant that it is inappropriate to discuss issues relating to regulatory enforcement.” (RELATED: Google Decides What is Fact in New Search Results Ranking System) Significantly, though, Cleland points out that the government’s standards of ethical conduct “are designed to address not only actual conflicts of interest, but also activities that give rise to the appearance of such conflicts” — a relatively low bar that could easily apply in this context. The agency says that it “raised concerns” about “other Google practices,” which appear to align with the documentary record, such as we have it.

Given the continued importance of search capabilities, even as search itself becomes increasingly diverse, and siloed in some ways, how we determine what is fair from providers is a topic that matters.

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