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Ohio AG backs antitrust suit against Google

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Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Ohio AG backs antitrust suit against Google

    In yet another indication of the seriousness of the mounting antitrust concerns about Goolge, the Ohio Attorney General, Richard A. Cordray, has weighed in on the side of myTriggers, an internet search firm suing Google for unfair anticompetitive practices.

    While the AG didn’t charge the Internet giant with a violation, his friend-of-the-court brief took a dim view of Google’s attempts to get the case dismissed on what I’d call a lawyer’s trick.

    Wendy Davis of MediaPost News explains MyTriggers’ allegations:

    MyTriggers argues that the drop in quality score was part of an anticompetitive scheme “to ensure that Google can continue to exert control over search advertising.” The shopping search site further asserted that it posed a threat to Google by monetizing searches on a cost-per-action basis, as opposed to Google’s cost-per-click model.

    In addition, myTriggers claims that it wasn’t able to draw much traffic without advertising on Google because of the company’s dominance in search.

    Google has argued that its behavior was allowed under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) and that the law preempts Ohio’s antitrust laws.  Google is asking the judge to dismiss the case without even considering the merits of myTriggers’ antitrust charges.

    The AG doesn’t think much of this.  A brief signed by Jennifer L. Pratt, chief of the Antitrust Section, says granting Google’s request to throw the case out would “immunize an entire industry from the reach of this State’s antitrust laws.”

    The brief says that Google’s claim the CDA preempts application of Ohio’s antitrust law “expands the reach of the CDA far beyond Congress’ intent and purpose.”

    I’m not a lawyer, but how you can claim with straight face that a law intended to “control the exposure of minors to indecent material” allows anticompetitive behavior is a mystery to me.

    The take-away from this episode:  There are substantial antitrust charges raised by the myTriggers case and the Ohio AG would like to ensure that the allegations get a thorough airing in court.  As the brief puts it, “The Attorney General  is committed to maximizing the vitality of competition in the State of Ohio in order to secure for its citizens the benefits of competitive markets.”

    Beyond that, the Ohio case demonstrates the seriousness of the antitrust issues posed by Google’s behavior. It makes it clear that it’s past time for the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to act aggressively against the Internet giant to protect the public interest.

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