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Congressman Warns FTC: Leave Google Alone 303

Posted by timothy
from the there-is-only-one-ftc dept.
concealment writes with this selection from Ars Technica: "A Democratic congressman who played a leading role in the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act earlier this year has taken up a new cause: shielding Google from antitrust scrutiny. In a strongly worded letter to Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) praised Google's contribution to the nation's economy. He warned Leibowitz that if the FTC does choose to initiate an antitrust case against Google, Congress might react by curtailing its regulatory authority."
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Congressman Warns FTC: Leave Google Alone

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  • by PieMokz (2751997) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:04AM (#41668491)
    How fucking dare anyone make fun of Google after all shes been trough thru. All you people care about readers and making money out of her. She's a human!
    • by Kuroji (990107) <kuroji@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:10AM (#41668543)

      You are one hundred percent right. Google is a corporation, and corporations are people, my friend.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I don't know, but why always a congressman sticks his nose in something it starts smelling fishy. Is there any other political force putting its influence to make FTC to investigate Google? Hollywood?
        • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:34AM (#41668795)

          I don't know, but why always a congressman sticks his nose in something it starts smelling fishy.

          Maybe because Congressmen rarely do anything when they don't have a direct vested interest [coloradodaily.com] in the corporation involved.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by DJRumpy (1345787)

            Kind of stupid to say that they shouldn't be investigated just based off the 'boost' they give the economy. I'm sure MS gave a huge boost to silicon valley, but that doesn't mean what they were doing was right or that it should insulate them from any investigations.

            If Google is innocent, then no harm no foul.

            • by timeOday (582209)
              It's the serf mentality: if we no longer had a king, who would allow us to farm his land?
            • by miltonw (892065) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @11:12AM (#41670003)

              If Google is innocent, then no harm no foul.

              "No harm"? You haven't ever been investigated, have you? You might be completely and totally innocent and still be ruined, financially and personally by an "investigation".

              While Google won't actually be ruined by this, to claim that there would be "no harm" is extremely naive.

              This is just like those people who say, "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from government spying."

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward

                You do realize this isn't the first investigation Google has gone through? I seriously doubt this one will somehow damage their reputation unless they prove to be found guilty.

                • by miltonw (892065)

                  You do realize this isn't the first investigation Google has gone through? I seriously doubt this one will somehow damage their reputation unless they prove to be found guilty.

                  WTF!?

                  So, if someone has been hit before, it "does no harm" to keep hitting them? Are you serious?

              • by shentino (1139071)

                The japanese compensate you for your time in jail if you aren't prosecuted IIRC.

                A nice compromise methinks.

            • Some would say that Microsoft got away with their practices for a very long time just because they gave a boost to the economy. However like all things, Microsoft's influence began to diminish as soon as the computing ecosphere changed and it became apparent that the political fallout from prosecuting Microsoft would be offset by the number of potentially new campaign donors produced by the internet based economy.

              Google was one of those new donors and the letter from Rep. Polis is a reflection of this new

      • If corporations are people, how is it legal for one corporation (i.e. person) to own another? I thought the US outlawed the owning of people as property?
  • by binarylarry (1338699) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:07AM (#41668513)

    My Good Friend Jared,

    It would be a shame if your constituents found out about all this hentai porn you've downloaded from the Internet.

    Perhaps you should send my friends at the FTC a letter explaining how their current views of Google are untenable.

    *Strokes white cat*

    Dearest Regards,
    Dr. Larry Page

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:08AM (#41668517) Homepage

    You do not want to anger the Google... Poking it with a stick will cause bad things to happen.

    • by sycodon (149926)

      "You do not want to anger your contributors... Poking them with a stick will cause your campaign war chest to diminish."

      Fixed...or rephrased...or...hell, just changed to make a snarky point.

      • by cdrudge (68377)

        Poking them with a stick will cause your campaign war chest to diminish.

        Unless you are Obama or Ron Paul, Google hasn't contributed anything significant to any politician directly (not counting lobbying expenditures). <$20k isn't exactly much of a war chest.

  • by lcam (848192) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:09AM (#41668523)

    And now it's going to get hammered.

    The FTC will double their resolve, they get to help Apple while defying congress.

    What could be better.

  • I see Google has finally figured out how Washington works. The whole thing reminds me of the Senate hearings scenes from The Godfather Part 2.

  • Google can use politicians to avoid obvious outcome. This only makes such an investigation more urgent.
  • "Well, we can't say if it's illegal until we review the results later."

    This is the exact same kind of thing they do in corrupt nations where the government has all kinds of laws you can't help but violate if you want to survive, which then get held over your head for "donations", or if you get too uppity.

    Congress can't conjur into existence magic to put Humpty together again, but they can beat the hell out of anybody with the temerity to try.

  • Nothing ever changes.

    • I'd say the whole open source movement is evidence to the contrary. Google is a marketing company which has somehow managed to convince a strongly anti-marketing parish (techies) to support it. I don't expect any particular moral or civil rectitude from them however, and I don't know why anyone would, except to the extent that they are keeping an eye on whatever filters through the public relations lens.

  • Regardless of your position (that is, what team you may be rooting for) I think generally speaking, we're all responding with the same sigh of dread.

    • by erroneus (253617)

      Ooops... sent before I was done.

      Seems like when government defends business, it invariably means the government is defending its own interests in some way. What is Google serving up to government?

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:24AM (#41668675) Journal
    If there is real proof that Google has a monopoly (i.e. they control the market) and that they have acted illegally by manipulating results wrongly or have forced tied products to their search engine, they SHOULD be investigated. The real issue here is that Google has a LARGE share, but does not have a monopoly. In addition, does anybody have any real proof that Google has manipulated results or forced other products to be tied to their search engine?

    Good examples are ATT, IBM and MS. Is there any proof that Google has acted like these companies did? I have not seen it.
    • by garcia (6573)

      Do I not understand how search engine choice works? To me Google is not forcing users to use their search functions like MSFT was doing by forcing PC OEMs to push out Windows, right?

      If we take a look at general websites with search functionality, don't they return internal results at the top and external results at the bottom because users of a particular site are likely to be interested in content pushed out by the same site their on more than external?

      • Do I not understand how search engine choice works? To me Google is not forcing users to use their search functions like MSFT was doing by forcing PC OEMs to push out Windows, right?

        That was just one part of the case against Microsoft. Another part was Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. Many felt that Microsoft abused their dominance in the OS market to dominate the internet browser market. A number of people feel that Google is doing essentially the same thing, using their dominance in the search market to push their other services onto their users.

        If we take a look at general websites with search functionality, don't they return internal results at the top and external results at the bottom because users of a particular site are likely to be interested in content pushed out by the same site their on more than external?

        I don't think that applies here, in my opinion. I doubt you'd find many people that go to google.com to find informat

    • by Xest (935314)

      I think the problem is that if Google has a monopoly, or has abused it, it's still small fry compared to Apple's use of it's digital music monopoly to leverage entry into the tablet and cellphone markets from the portable music player market, especially when coupled with it's in-app purchase restrictions and anti-consumer deals with the eBook market after it's entry there also, and similarly small fry compared to Oracle's purchase and subsequent abuse of Java, or Facebook's clear breach of data protection l

      • Good points in the start. Now, what I find interesting is that you point out Apple's massive use of a market to attempt control of an industry. Yet, the FTC is ignoring it. What strikes me is that if FTC is going after Google, they NEED to investigate Apple as well. Otherwise, it is an indication of massive corruption going on.

        Personally, I say that unless FTC has proof on Google, they should let sleeping dogs lie.
        • by maxdread (1769548)

          I think what bugs me the most is that the FTC announced they were looking into Google, Announcing that you want to look into them comes across more as a threat than anything else. No need to make some public show of it, you inform Google and you start your investigation, don't drag it into the public eye unless you have some proof and you're actually starting some sort of hearing/trial against them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by pr0nbot (313417)

      In terms of "Google's contribution to the nation's economy" I hope the US is getting a better deal from Google than the UK is:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/apr/20/google-uk-tax-avoidance [guardian.co.uk]

    • Being a monopoly is not illegal, abusing that monopoly to prevent others entering the market or to spread your influence into other markets is. Google is completely safe on the first count, a small team could start up a search engine in a matter of weeks, but I can see how there are areas of concern in the second.

      Google uses it's search page to serve a wide variety of content these days and there have been accusations that they unfairly increase the rankings of their own services in the past (though I'm no

      • Ok, so what I hear are accusations. I do not see any proof on-line or even from you. The truth is, that if Google's results are rising to the top, I suspect that is because
        Likewise, assuming that the issue is android and mapping, as I have pointed out to others, android is opensource. For that matter, so is google mapping since it is all in javascript. The voice is a separate product that Apple wants, but does not want google to place their other apps on ios.

        I say that Google should not be investigate
    • by StormReaver (59959) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:52AM (#41668987)

      Is there any proof that Google has acted like these companies did? I have not seen it.

      Nor has anyone else.

      There is a witch hunt against Google because it provides a set of services that provides better value than any of its competitors. There is absolutely nothing preventing anyone else from getting into search, except the need to provide a better product. This isn't like AT&T, IBM, or Microsoft (as you rightly pointed out), where there were insurmountable barriers (ability to install competing phone lines, incompatibilities causing vendor lock-in, and [what should have been illegal] exclusivity agreements with the entire supply chain).

      The only thing keeping someone from competing with Google is that people like Google. Using a competing search engine is trivially easy (you just need to go there), but Google just provides a better service.

      This witch hunt is just a desperate attempt by failed competitors to get the Government to make Google less useful, because the competitors know they can't compete on their merits.

    • by Xacid (560407)

      Agreed. While I think this guy's heart may be in the right place he needs to realize that his branch isnt the executive branch. However, this is an interesting application of checks and balances so if congress truly does think they're over stepping their boundaries then this may be a justified course of action.

    • Is there any proof that Google has acted like these companies did? I have not seen it.

      They unilaterally changed their terms of use, recently?

    • You can't stick non-Google ads on their services...

      You can't swap out Google search for Bing in Gmail...

      Two very obvious examples of "forced other products to be tied to their search engine".

      • by Stickerboy (61554)

        You can't stick non-Google ads on their services...

        You can't swap out Google search for Bing in Gmail...

        Two very obvious examples of "forced other products to be tied to their search engine".

        You have it backwards. IF Google had a monopoly in search engines, it would be abusing its monopoly position if it forced Google users to use Gmail for their webmail. Having the Google search engine used in Gmail has nothing to do with monopoly, as there is no dispute that Gmail is not in a monopoly position in the webmail market.

        Not being able to stick non-Google ads on their services is likewise not a monopoly issue, as none of those services (like Gmail) are in a monopoly position in their respective ma

    • They've definitely used their search engine to push a browser that by passes a system's security model in order to boost their marketshare.
    • Oh and they forced Google+ on everyone who really only wants their search or Gmail. Face it G+ was a failure but they're pushing that shit down people's throats.
  • Look at the code (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:24AM (#41668677)
    It seems an anti trust case would be clear cut. Look at the algorithms. If the algorithms are creating a horizontal monopoly by intentionally hiding the compitition in search results then Google is guilty. If the algorithms just show the links that people click on the most then Google is innocent.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      You can just look at the result to figure that out; which people have. And no, there really isn't an 'horizontal monopoly'.

  • Why is it they are only willing to go to the mat for corporate interests and never seem to have time to do the business of the people? They spent most of this year on vacation but they seem to have time to threaten a government agency if they dare touch a rich corporate contributor. Shouldn't they be threatening them if they DON'T go after Google?
  • You don't "buy" favor in Washington, you buy favor by making sure that you are indispensible to (lots of) congressmen through both direct funds and influence in their own backyard. A K Street lawyer with a nice donation and a healthy expense account is really just there to remind congressmen of how much good you do back in their home district, and what an awful economic blow it would be to lose you from their little corner of the world.

    This kind of stuff goes on all the time, though it may not be so blatant

  • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @09:56AM (#41669049)

    ... that actually gets it. He was one of the 5 or so congresscritters that "stood in the way" of SOPA during the House Judiciary Committee hearings. He even understands the seedy underbelly of the net without going apeshit with wild claims. Someone this "net literate" in Congress is a rare thing indeed. There are a few with Rs next to their names that also get it, but they are rare as hen's teeth also.

    >Google is a monopoly

    The market is that way because every other competitor's product sucks more. Yahoo somehow keeps finding ways to suck more as time goes on, even though it seems like it can't possibly suck more. Google Maps is unparalleled, for example. Nobody else has the equivalent of Google Earth. There is Google search and then there is "everyone else" - mirroring "IBM and the seven dwarfs." They may as well be Cuil. And after, what, a decade of Hotmail being a laughingstock, I'm not motivated to use And unlike other companies that "maintain monopolies," Google doesn't go out of its way to "cut off the oxygen" of its competitors or partners - they don't have to.

    I don't like big corporations and Google's size makes me uneasy. But I have problems finding serious fault with how they got to where they are today.

    And when the FTC actually ever takes Microsoft seriously, then maybe I'll give them the benefit of the doubt going after Google. But they didn't and won't so I won't.

    --
    BMO

  • by Mashdar (876825) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @10:21AM (#41669355)

    We don't have much detail yet, but I think this is really going to be about Google "bundling" services. When I search for a local restaurant, a map and reviews pop up. When I type a ticker symbol, a stock quote appears.
    While I love these services, I see how they might be questionably anti-competative. See Microsoft and the trouble they got in over Internet Explorer, Media Player, etc.
    It seems it would be bad for consumers if they find Google guilty, but I'm not sure if the quality of the tool shields them from the claim that they coercing consumers into using their products.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @10:21AM (#41669359) Homepage Journal

    We're facing some of the core issues that were warned about so long ago.

    Do Not Track is proving to be a key issue, with a stand off building between advertisers/marketers/corporations, and various 'providers', and users. DNT has the potential for wrecking the models of many content providers, crushing the online ad business, and doing so by ensuring users can be 'left alone' despite the powerful drive to reach them no matter their preference. This is not much different from the Do-Not-Call fights not long ago with the telemarketers. Will the FTC and other agencies get into this fight as they did with Do Not Call, on the side of consumers, or wil the cave to the Internet and try to avoid it? Watching Microsoft try to implement DNT and being told outright that some advertisers will just ignore it sounds like the boilerroom types threatening to ignore Do Not Call, and indeed some did. Only fines worked, and then not perfectly. Will we get DNT?

    Google is of course doing whatever is legally permitted, and more where there isn't much legislation to call upon. We will have to decide how we want to be tracked online, and then petition our representatives to force that, and then deal with the global Internet and all the non-US entities that may have different ideas. I don't blame Google for this, but until we legislate it, they will do whatever makes money.

    And if we succeed in limiting Google and others, we should expect that the days of 'free' on the Internet , as in 'free services', are numbered. GMail is only free to you because ad revenue supports it. When you start denying the ads, you will need to pay for what was supported by them. It's just that simple. Will we? And then, google gets out of the 'beta' model and gets into the paid-for model, where customer service is necessary, and people will complain when Gmail goes haywire.

    There is an outfit that is doing the paid-for model already, and seems moderately adequate. Yahoo! mail is available with POP/IMAP access for a fee, and they seem to be doing it well enough for a small fraction to pay. If I were the Yahoo! CEO, I would be lobbying behind the scenes for DNT, as it would force others (Google mostly) to find some way to fund their operations without stealing the info users would rather they not, and might force them into a new revenue model. One Yahoo! could possibly compete with.

    Between the Partiot Act, TSA, SOPA, DMCA, copyright law abuses, and domestic surveillance, our government is edging closer to a full-fledged confrontation with the electorate. We will have to fight for our freedoms again in my lifetime. Privacy will not be the issue. Due process will become the issue. Watching me, intercepting my communications, and compelling my cooperation without discernable benefit are the coming issues. Already here, just not yet painful enough for us to complain. TSA Kabuki Security Theatre is one of these, NSA snooping another, and government management of healthcare another. When the governemnt decides to offer you different healthcare options based on your apparent lifestyle, based on your online data, we'll realize that none of this was good for us. And government-provided anything will always suffer from financial constraints. That will lead to making decisions based on budgets. Don't think it won't. Already, with private health insurance, you make these decisions.

    We have a big fight ahead of us.

    • by pellik (193063)

      When the governemnt decides to offer you different healthcare options based on your apparent lifestyle, based on your online data, we'll realize that none of this was good for us.

      I was right there with you up until this point. Right now we have a healthcare system where unless you earn a very good salary you will not get good care. I'd rather be judged by my lifestyle then my wallet. People are routinely sentenced to death under our current system because they can't afford $1000 co pay per weekly dose of medication, and these are people who have made a good effort to take care of themselves. You can be a life long chain smoker who really brought about your own cancer, but because yo

  • Dear Mr. Jon Leibowitz,
    Just because google is large should not make them above the law. As a congressman you SHOULD both know better and SHOULD be protecting the people from companies of ANY size. Shame on you!

    Proof we need change in this country. Who elected this fool?

  • So the logic is.... If politicians like an entity (or use it on a daily basis), it should..... not be affected by pre-existing laws?

    Just checking...

  • by RalphSlate (128202) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @01:07PM (#41671729) Homepage

    I don't think the people who blindly defend Google have an understanding of what Google is doing with its search results. Let me give you my experience as a site owner.

    I run a popular sports website. On April 24 2012, I saw a 30% decrease in traffic. I figured that maybe interest in my sport had cooled off because the season was winding down, or that it was a temporary situation. But the traffic didn't get any better. But then I noticed when searching Google that my site wasn't coming up as often as it used to. In fact, when searching for topics that were only covered on my site, my site wasn't being returned in Google. If I went to Bing, they came up right at the top, but Google searchers were left thinking that no such information existed on the internet.

    I learned that on April 24, Google put in an algorithm that penalized websites for "webspam". What is webspam? They identified it very vaguely, but the examples they gave were egregious - people who put thousands of unrelated words on a page, or people who were running massive link exchanges designed to boost other websites' popularity in Google's results. But my site did none of that - yet Google cut it from appearing in the search results by about 70%.

    Do you know what recourse I had as a site owner? Zero. Google doesn't have a customer service department. They have an online forum staffed by volunteers who are, quite honestly, arrogant and abusive. Occasionally an actual Google employee drops in, but they won't answer questions because they don't want people to be able to figure out their algorithms.

    My story has a happy ending because last week, my penalty was lifted. No explanation, no communication, it was just something I noticed. Many others have not recovered, and there is always the threat of having the penalty applied again. To be clear, this penalty is applied by an algorithm, not by a human. There is no human ability to override it. That's just wrong, and scary too.

    Some have speculated that Google's algorithm penalized sites in order to force them to purchase advertising on Google. Imagine that you're making $500 a day from your #1 Google spot. No need to advertise. But if Google demotes you, then maybe you'd spend $250 per day to get back to the #1 spot? It's speculation, but well-reasoned - before I learned that I was demoted by a penalty, I increased my advertising with Google to try and get traffic back. Google's advertising profits went up after they put this penalty in place.

    Another reason that Google gives for penalizing sites is if they have "too much advertising". So they want sites to remove advertising. That itself is an antitrust problem - because less advertising on sites means more demand for Google advertising.

    Google also penalizes websites that run affiliate programs that Google doesn't find "add much value". Let's say that you have a site that reviews books, and in your review you provide an Amazon link so that if someone buys the book, you get a commission. Google doesn't like that. They want to send the user to Amazon instead. They want to cut out the middleman.

    Google may also be (or may soon be) penalizing or rewarding sites that don't mark up their data in a way that Google can interpret with an algorithm. But since Google has expressed an interest in cutting out the middleman - websites - when it comes to returning information, this could be an attempt to force sites to train their own replacement. They're already doing this - they pull data from Wikipedia (which Wikipedia editors have manually scraped from other websites) and display it right on Google's page. No need to leave Google for your information.

    By applying penalties, Google has become like a credit bureau. Last I checked, credit bureaus were regulated in the USA because they have the power to do significant damage to people via things like errors and omissions. Credit bureaus have to give you a chance to correct your credit rating, to fix errors, and they have to give you a general idea as to what

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