John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Congressman to FTC: Hands Off Google

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz best tread carefully if he opts to bring antitrust charges against Google. Because one misstep and Congress will get medieval on him.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, feels that taking legal action against Google for alleged anticompetitive behavior is a lousy idea — so lousy that he’s threatening to give the FTC a Congressional spanking if it moves ahead with it.

“I believe that application of antitrust against Google would be a woefully misguided step that would threaten the very integrity of our antitrust system, and could ultimately lead to congressional action resulting in a reduction in the ability of the FTC to enforce critical antitrust protections in industries where markets are being distorted in monopolies or oligopolies,” Polis wrote in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “At a time when the national economy continues to stagnate, it’s not clear to me why the FTC should be focusing on a product that consumers seem very happy with, search engines. Competition is only a click away and there are no barriers to competition.”

Leaving aside for a moment the letter’s fortuitous timing — leaked to the press just days after news emerged that four of the FTC’s five commissioners think Google may have used its dominance of the search market to harm rivals — it’s a bit unusual. For one thing, it’s a threat of Congressional action. For another, it’s a threat from the most junior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee — a guy who’s not even on the competition and the Internet subcommittee, which would presumably be the party most interested in this sort of thing.

And then there’s that “competition is only a click away” comment. Even if you’ve been following Google’s regulatory tribulations half-heartedly the past few years, you’d recognize that as a central bullet point of the company’s fair competition argument. Remember, Google’s business is perpetually at risk and its dominance potentially fleeting, even if it does hold a well over 60 percent share of the U.S. search market …

Fine. Maybe that point resonated with Polis, who founded and sold off a number of Internet businesses before pursuing a career in politics. But it still seems a bit odd. And just to be clear: Google has not donated to Polis’s campaign, according to OpenSecrets.

But a single Congressman who’s not privy to the findings of the FTC’s year-long investigation of Google threatening congressional action over a call the agency hasn’t yet made?

Which is not to say that the FTC shouldn’t be careful about taking antitrust action against Google. It most certainly should. The industry in which the company operates is a rapidly changing one that has benefited from the hands-off approach given it by the government. A more hands-on approach could have broad, unforeseen and unfortunate consequences.

That’s a very real concern. But maybe we should all wait and see the FTC’s evidence and the merits of its case — if there is one — before threatening to limit the agency’s authority.

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