It would seem that the Google antitrust debacle is far from over as today in Washington D.C. Senator Mike Lee (Republican, Utah) is planning to make an investigative inquiry into the situation. According to Sen. Lee's office staff, the Senator is planning to obtain information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding meetings it had with staff of Google Inc. during a time when Google was being considered for antitrust violations. Senator Mike Lee is the head of the Senate's antitrust panel and is seeking to find out what kinds of conversations Google and the FTC had during those times. This inquiry could also extend to the White House and include meetings and conversations that happened where the White House was also present in the talks. Both the FTC and Google have said that no improprieties occurred, and that during the time of the investigation, any meetings that were held did not go outside normal protocol for a company that could be under review. The FTC also noted that any decisions it made as a legal authority in such matters were strictly made in accordance with the laws that govern such practices as well as taking into consideration all evidence that it was able to obtain.
Google has reiterated what the FTC has stated, and noted that at no time did they take any inappropriate measures or engage In any unethical or illegal dialog with the FTC. In terms of the White House, Google has said in a public policy blog that all meetings that were conducted at the White House during that time were for various public projects as well as advising the White House staff about matters regarding technology and various innovations. This is normal for the White House to meet with various business leaders in all types of areas. Mostly these visits are to help White House staff understand certain issues or to inform the White House on various matters that may be of interest to the general public at large. According to White House press spokesman Eric Schultz, the meetings were as Google had stated and mentioned that the White House routinely meets with various business leaders. He also made note of the fact that the FTC is an independent agency and that its decisions are made independent of other agencies that include the White House, which has no influence on FTC decisions during investigations.
This debacle started when the Wall St. Journal ran a story in which it stated that it had received 160 pages of a critique that noted that Google's "conduct has resulted--and will result--in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets." The 160 page report surfaced after the Wall St. Journal had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the FTC. The Wall St. Journal reported the 160 page brief to the FTC who stated that it had been mistakenly sent and requested that the Journal return the report. The report was never meant for publication since these matters are usually never published. This is another point that Senator Lee wants to investigate. He wants to determine how and why the information accidentally ended up in the hands of the Wall St. Journal.
While ultimately the FTC decided to not file an antitrust lawsuit against Google, this report does show how the various agencies within the FTC were split on the matter and confused as to how to best handle it. Google in a response published by their General Council Kent Walker, pointed out that the FTC agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results" and that Speculation about potential consumer harm turned out to be entirely wrong." It is clear that since Senator Lee, who has been widely critical of Google, is inquiring into the matter that this issue will be around for some time. We would also like to point out that Google has also agreed to back out of a fundraiser event that it had planned for Sen. Lee. Both the Senator and Google decided that with the advent of the inquiry, that it would be in the best interest of both parties as well as the public that Google back out of the event. We will have to wait and see what, if anything, the Senator is able to uncover and report as a result of his inquiry into this matter. Until that time, Google and the Journal will no doubt exchange more rhetoric until this matter is finally put to rest.