Google critics on the left and right push to revisit FTC probe

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said Congress needs to strengthen the FTC, which “needs to be given adequate resources to go head to toe with an industry this deeply pocketed”.

“Enforcers need both the will and the tools to take on big tech,” the Connecticut legislature, who sits on the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement. “If the FTC is unwilling to initiate legal proceedings against big tech, we need reforms to ensure that consumers, workers and small businesses harmed by the abuse of monopoly power can bring legal action against them.”

The harsh reactions show how much the reputation of Washington’s largest companies in Silicon Valley has suffered for a decade as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tended to view them as economic engines. Now Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are facing all kinds of investigations, including antitrust investigations by the FTC and the Department of Justice, as well as demands from Republicans and Democrats to hold online companies accountable for content their users post.

POLITICO received 312 pages of internal FTC documents setting out what the agency’s lawyers and economists thought of allegations that the search giant had downgraded rivals like Yelp and eBay to bolster its own niche products. This includes both some incorrect and contradicting assumptions about the future of the internet and Concerns about Google’s contracts The search engine is set as the default on most mobile devices – exclusive agreements with Apple, wireless carriers, and smartphone manufacturers that are now the subject of antitrust proceedings by the Department of Justice.

At least one Democrat saw promising signs in the current FTC chief Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, who will testify on antitrust issues in the house on Thursday. “The good news is that Becca Slaughter is taking these issues seriously,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Chairman of the House’s Energy and Trade Subcommittee that oversees the FTC. Schakowsky declined to comment directly on the FTC’s 2011-13 probe.

The FTC did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Republicans piled up with Buck. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), A frequent technology critic, said the documents suggest the Obama administration gave Google “a treasure deal” and urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings.

“Google broke the law last time,” said Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Another technology critic on the judicial committee. “This time around, Google is fighting three different antitrust proceedings and is taking on the Justice Department and almost every attorney general in the country.”

They were in rare alliance with progressive activists who used the revelations to urge the government to miss the chance to regulate Google at a time when it might have been easier to keep growing Silicon Valley companies in check .

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and anti-monopoly attorney, said on Twitter that the full 312 pages of documents from the investigation showed that the FTC’s Obama-era investigation was “so much worse than we thought. And we thought it was bad. “

“This is a devastating defeat for the Obama FTC and FTC economists,” she wrote.

Google saw the documents received from POLITICO very differently showed the agency saw how the company’s search engine benefits users. Google also targeted Microsoft, one of the companies that complained to the FTC about Google’s behavior.

“The FTC put consumer interest in better quality search results above that of a strong commercial rival that has since grown to become the second largest company in the US by market cap,” said Rosie Lipscomb, Google’s director of competition , in a blog post Tuesday. Microsoft declined to comment.

Other corporate opponents of Google quickly pushed back. Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, whose company was among those who complained to the FTC in the previous investigation, also called on Congress to hold a hearing.

“It is now clearer than ever that the decision to close the antitrust investigation against Google in 2013 has not aged well,” he said. “These smoking guns documents show how Google methodically destroyed the web. All of this evidence should be reviewed with fresh eyes. “

But even some tech industry critics have said that guilty of the FTC ignores a major obstacle to antitrust action: judges hostile to such cases. Harold Feld, senior vice president at Open Internet Nonprofit Public Knowledge, said the most recent examples include the Justice Department’s unsuccessful challenge for the AT&T Time Warner merger in 2018 and attorneys general who most recently merged Sprint and T-Mobile would not have blocked years.

“It doesn’t matter how aggressive the DOJ and FTC are if the current judiciary continues to undermine antitrust law in the name of phantom efficiency,” said Feld, whose group is accepting some donations from Google.

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