Bloomberg is reporting today that the FTC may take a dive on exercising oversight of Google’s government-protected monopoly:
Federal Trade Commission officials are unsure they have enough evidence to sue Google successfully under antitrust laws for giving its own services top billing and pushing down the offerings of rivals, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the discussions aren’t public. Regulators are also looking at whether the ranking system’s benefits to consumers outweigh any harm suffered by rivals including NexTag Inc. and Kayak Software Corp. (KYAK), the people said.
Right. Because when you push your competitors’ results (and prices) down in the search rankings, consumers always win. (?)
The agency is under pressure to extract concessions from Google after winning a battle with the Justice Department’s antitrust division over which regulator would probe the world’s most popular search engine. The complaints about skewed search results represent a far greater threat to Google’s business than any of the FTC’s other concerns, said Keith Hylton, a Boston University law professor who has written several books on antitrust topics.
So after mudwrestling with the Justice Department’s antitrust division for the ability to bring the antitrust action, the FTC shrugs its shoulders and says “nothing to see here, move along.”
It’s the latest in a series of events that show Google is basically using the FTC as its own personal blow-up doll. The FTC decided not to investigate the Wi-Spy scandal, leaving the scraps to the FCC who wound up imposing its largest fine ever on Google. They gave Google a softball settlement in the Buzz scandal, and looked the other way when they bought Admob, Doubleclick, Admeld, Motorola, ITA or any of the other 119 companies Google has gobbled up.
Just last week the FTC’s lawyers marched into court joined at the hip with Google’s lawyers, jointly misrepresenting to the judge that the FTC commissioners intended for Google to be able to retain the data they stole from Safari users by hacking their privacy protections (according to one of the FCC’s commissioners, they didn’t).
What a happy coincidence that Google chief Eric Schmidt hit the campaign trail for President Obama and was on hand at the Chicago campaign headquarters when the President stopped by to thank campaign staffers after the election.
Despite the admonition of watchdog groups asking the President to distance himself from Schmidt when the company was under investigation by the Department of Justice for selling hundreds of millions of dollars in online ads to illegal pharmacies, the Bromance continues.
It’s pretty much now or never for the FTC to take any antitrust action against Google. The term has expired of the only FTC Commissioner who has stood up to either Google or Facebook, J. Thomas Rosch, and Obama’s nominee to replace him — Joshua Wright — has close ties to Google and openly opposes the antitrust investigation.
Schmidt denies he is headed for a cabinet job. Why would he want one? Earlier this month, British MP Fiona MacTaggart called Google “a giant executive share bonus generation scheme, not an exercise in creating shareholder value.”
Schmidt can sleep well at night knowing that Google is safe from prying government oversight or regulation, even as he drives the news industry into extinction. He’s doing just fine where he is.
Photo of Eric Schmidt by Charles Haynes under Creative Commons license