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.