Says Action Necessary To Restore Faith in Agency As Effective Antitrust Enforcer
Consumer Watchdog today called on the Federal Trade Commission to release the 100-page staff report on the 19-month Google investigation as the only way to “restore a modicum of public trust in the Commission’s ability to serve as an effective antitrust enforcer.”
“I call on you to release the FTC staff report to help make clear what was behind the Commission’s otherwise unfathomable action,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director in a letter to Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Commissioners Julie Brill, Edith Ramirez, Maureen Ohlhausen and Joshua Wright.
“Media reports suggest that the Commission’s tap on the Internet giant’s wrist was the result of a ‘calculated and expensive charm offensive,’ ” Simpson wrote.
“Put another way, by all appearances, the Internet giant played an insiders’ game and bought its way out of trouble,” Simpson wrote. “Perhaps, the Commission managed to ignore the charm offensive and decide the case on the merits. Sadly, we cannot know the true situation because we don’t have the details of the 19-month staff investigation.”
Consumer Watchdog’s letter quotes articles in Politico and The New York Times about the Internet giant’s $25 million lobbying campaign and its efforts to cozy up to the Obama Administration and other Washington insiders. “It was a multiyear campaign focused on this very moment, knowing as the company grew these issues were going to come up,” Alan Davidson, Google’s former top lobbyist, told Politico.
The best course of action, Consumer Watchdog said, would have been to file an antitrust suit and bring the case to trial. All the evidence would have been part of the public record. In a November letter to the FTC Consumer Watchdog warned that a negotiated settlement would inevitably invite cynicism about the results.
Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the Commission today continued:
Opting to avoid a trial and filing a formal consent agreement would at least have required a complaint, spelling out the violation. Instead you have settled for promises from a company that has a demonstrated record of repeatedly breaking its word. And it’s not even clear what they did wrong.
Your only chance of re-establishing the FTC’s credibility on its handling of the Google investigation is to release the 100-page staff report about the inquiry. Releasing the report would put the Commission’s decision in context.
Moreover, the public has the right to know what the staff recommended and to understand the reasoning of the professionals who conducted the lengthy investigation and the quality of their work. It could be possible that the staff botched the investigation and you were left with no other choice. If the report contains Google trade secrets, they could be redacted.