Among the things Eric Schmidt has contributed to Google, his push to have the company invest in government lobbying is by far the most valuable. In fact, if you don’t count the embarrassing silences and talk-overs you get whenever someone puts him in front of a microphone, the Walking Retraction hasn’t contributed much else.
Witness the report from the FTC that was “leaked” to the Wall Street Journal as part of one of their FOIA request (oopsie!) detailing the serious misgivings the agency’s bureau of competition had with Google’s abuse of its monopoly power and how close the agency was to prosecuting Google. The bureau of competition had serious issues with some of Google’s business practices, such as scraping reviews and product rankings from sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon and repackaging it as its own. In the words of the report, Google “use(d) its monopoly power over search to extract the fruits of its rivals’ innovations.” These complaints were made not just from known griefers like Microsoft and Yelp, but tech giants such as eBay and Amazon. The Journal report describes four categories about which the bureau expressed concern: bias Google showed in its search results, the aforementioned scraping and repackaging of others’ content, the restrictions Google placed on advertisers own data which made it difficult to work with other advertisers and Google’s practice of punishing content providers in its rankings for cutting deals with other search engines.
Even though the bureau of competition has historically had great influence over whether or not the agency pursues further legal action against a company, the five FTC commissioners for some reason voted to close the investigation in 2013, much to the delight of Google. Contrast the grave concerns cited in the report with with the public statements made by Google’s chief Shylocks Kent Walker and Dave Drummond about the inquiry:
Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”
“Speculation about potential consumer harm turned out to be entirely wrong,”
“It is clear that Google’s threat was intended to produce, and did produce, the desired effect, which was to coerce Yelp and TripAdvisor into backing down (from initial complaints about their content being stolen and used as Google’s).”
“The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”
So why would such a damning indictment from within the FTC fizzle into a wet fart when it came down to a vote? It might have something to do with Google’s $16.8 million lobby spend in 2014, which ranked it 9th out of any company in the nation and the clear #1 in the tech sector. Or maybe it’s because they were the second-largest corporate contributor to Obama’s re-election campaign.
Nah. I’m sure all those millions were thrown at government to ensure a free and open internet with Liberty and Justice for All.
Well-played, Google. I guess the difference between getting away with using an actual monopoly to bend the likes of eBay, Amazon, Microsoft and Yelp to your will and getting railroaded by the DoJ for introducing competition into the ebook market is a few million dollars in the right coffers.
Is it any wonder people in this country despise politicians?