US senator calls on FTC to open new antitrust investigation against Google
Anger at Google on the right and within the administration may tip the balance of opinion toward a new inquiry.
Earlier today Senator Orrin Hatch called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open a new antitrust investigation of Google in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. Hatch is the latest legislator to do so.
Combined with other events, Hatch’s request suggests that sentiments in legislative and regulatory circles may be turning against Google specifically, and big technology companies in general. Google parent Alphabet has been hit with two multi-billion dollar antitrust fines in Europe in the context of shopping search and its Android agreements with phone makers. These developments have provided additional support to critics who believe Google needs to be investigated.
There’s also a sense, in some quarters, that a small number of big technology companies, including Google, wield too much influence over the digital economy. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other technology companies are also seen by many in the Republican party as biased against conservatives, a view voiced frequently during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before a joint congressional committee earlier this year. This long-standing critique was revived earlier this week by Trump and some of his allies.
In response to perceptions of censorship of right-leaning views and opinion, Trump and economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the White House would be “looking into” regulating Google. Trump also warned Google, Facebook and Twitter to “be careful.”
It’s unlikely that there could be any content-based regulation of Google. The company’s algorithm and search rankings have been held to be protected speech.
Antitrust is a different matter. This may be the avenue Republican critics now see as a way to punish Google for alleged anti-conservative bias. However, that’s not the only motivation for inquiry, as there are also Google critics within the ranks of Democratic members of Congress who agree that a new antitrust inquiry should be opened.
If Google were to be investigated, this wouldn’t be the first time. In January 2013, the FTC concluded an antitrust investigation of Google saying “the law protects competition, not competitors.” The commission said at the time that there wasn’t enough factual evidence of alleged “search bias” to support any sort of complaint.
Since that time, at various points, there have been calls for a new investigation, especially in the wake of the recent European decisions and fines.