Consumer Group to Call for Google Break up

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica group that’s proving a perpetual thorn in the side of Google Inc., plans to call on the Justice Department to launch an antitrust action against the search giant and seek remedies including a possible break up.

    The consumer organization, which secured grants from the Rose Foundation of Oakland specifically to investigate Google’s privacy practices, plans to make the announcement at a press conference titled “The Antitrust Case Against Google” in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

    “We, as an organization, have concluded that there’s enough evidence on the table to warrant this, to go beyond the reactive steps that the regulatory agencies have followed up until now,” said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.

    To be sure, the Justice Department doesn’t take direction from consumer groups, but the announcement comes at a moment when antitrust pressure is building against Google of Mountain View on many fronts.

    The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly assembling a team to prepare a possible legal challenge of Google’s proposed acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob. The Department of Justice raised antitrust concerns with the proposed Google Books settlement. European antitrust regulators are looking into charges that Google unfairly ranks competitors in its search results, the subject of private lawsuits as well.

    Separately, on Tuesday, officials from 10 countries, including Canada, France, Germany and the U.K., issued a letter to Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, raising concerns the company’s privacy policies.

    Google didn’t immediately respond to a press inquiry from The Chronicle. But it has defended its practices in the past, arguing they’re designed with the interests of consumers in mind.

    Also participating in the Wednesday press conference will be: Gary Reback, the prominent Silicon Valley attorney who is credited with spearheading the antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. and is actively working against the Google Books deal; and Joseph Bial, a lawyer with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who is representing TradeComet and myTrigger in lawsuits that allege anti-competitive behavior by Google.

    Reback — who is working for Google competitors including Microsoft and Amazon through the Open Book Alliance — stopped short of saying Google should be broken up, but did say that a government probe is clearly warranted.

    “Everyday that goes by that there’s not a formal investigation, there seems to be more and more complaints and greater and greater problems, especially in Silicon Valley,” he said.

    Reback said one of his chief concerns is that Google’s search engine, despite company claims to sort online content objectively, seems to increasingly favor Google content over that of competitors. Searches for music, locations and restaurants frequently return high results to company services like YouTube, Google Maps and Place Pages.

    “Google is the way that most people get onto the Internet,” Simpson said. “What Google decides determines where people will go and what kind of experience they’re going to have. We think that, because of that, it’s the case that Google is virtually a public utility and it really needs some kind of regulation.”

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