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The announcement of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the Google’s trade practices and an ongoing Congressional investigation has some in Washington predicting the end of the Internet, as we know it.  But before writing the Internet’s obituary, it is critical to take a step back and examine what is really going on.

No one has accused Google of violating any laws–yet.  At this point, Congress and the FTC just have some questions they’d like answered. This should not be shocking, given Google’s record of seeming contempt for the law and the fact that they control 2/3 of the Internet search market, the authorities would almost have to willfully turn a blind eye to Google’s behavior to avoid having at least a few questions.

After all, Google has been repeatedly implicated and in many instances fined for copyright infringement, illegally profiting from illegal drug sales, patent infringement and other violations. All of which seems to show a pattern of doing, taking or using whatever they want whenever they want, without regard for laws and then escaping punishment by offering some policy change or by using their vast wealth to negotiate a settlement:

Google Buzz: Google used private information from users’ other Google products like Gmail to populate their new Buzz platform. The FTC alleged that this use of data without informing customers constituted deceptive marketing practices by leading Gmail users to believe they could choose whether or not to join Buzz when that wasn’t the case. Google has settled with the FTC by agreeing to pay a fine and undergo future privacy inspections.

WiSpy II: The public and Congress were up in arms to learn that popular smart phone platforms like iPhone and Google’s Android regularly captured data on users’ locations. Apple has moved forward with a solution but to date, Google has refused to change their practices.

GoogleBooks: Both the Authors Gild and the Association of American Publishers brought suits against Google alleging massive copyright infringement violations after Google secured a deal with major libraries to scan and post on the books in their library on the internet.  Google reached an agreement with the parties for a payment of $125 million and future royalties. However the DOJ objected saying the deal violated anti-trust laws and federal judge Denny Chin agreed and recently rejected the deal saying it would give Google a “significant advantage over competitors” and reward them for “engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works with out permission.”

European Antitrust: European regulators have opened an investigation into possible anti-trust violations. They are exploring whether Google has abused its dominance in the search market by downgrading competitor’s sites in search results to weaken competitors’ ability to market advertising.

And as recently as last week, Google found itself explaining why a member of their sales team was caught promising a merchant that his product would be “number one on Google” if the merchant signed up with Google’s new deals product “Offer” rather than its competitors like Groupon. This is exactly the kind of behavior that is of concern to the EU, FTC and Congress.  Google has denied the whole thing and writes the incident off to a misunderstanding between the merchant and Google sales staff –and of course they promise a policy change to train their salespeople better.

So, while no one has yet actually accused Google of violating any laws, each new incident with Google seems to add  more credence to the idea of at least asking a few questions.  And if Google is found to be doing things like manipulating search results to the detriment of its competitors, for the good of the internet, even the doomsayers will be glad the questions were asked.


2 Responses

  1. Ravi

    Where’s the part about Google profiting from illegal drug sales?


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