Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory

Written by SK Ashby

There may been a conspiracy afoot several years ago according to Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Chairman Senator Mike Lee (R) of Utah.

Senator Lee has announced that he is opening an investigation into meetings between Google and the White House, implying that the White House interfered with an FTC investigation of Google.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is concerned that Google’s access to the administration could have biased the investigation, and plans to question the “FTC and the parties” about the meetings, according to his office. [...]

“Our interest is in oversight,” Lee’s spokeswoman Emily Long said in a statement.

If you can't recall hearing about an FTC investigation of Google, one could hardly blame you. The investigation was conducted in 2012 and a settlement was reached in 2013.

The Wall Street Journal just recently reported on a series of internal reports from the FTC that indicated that there was some disagreement about the next course of action the agency should take against Google. While some within the agency recommended that the federal government file a lawsuit against Google, the FTC and Google ultimately settled out of court. This internal debate apparently intrigued Senator Lee enough to jumpstart an investigation.

Under the terms of the settlement, this is what the FTC and Google agree to:

Under a settlement reached with the FTC, Google will meet its prior commitments to allow competitors access – on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms – to patents on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices such as smart phones, laptop and tablet computers, and gaming consoles. In a separate letter of commitment to the Commission, Google has agreed to give online advertisers more flexibility to simultaneously manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms; and to refrain from misappropriating online content from so-called “vertical” websites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings. [...]

“The evidence the FTC uncovered through this intensive investigation prompted us to require significant changes in Google’s business practices. However, regarding the specific allegations that the company biased its search results to hurt competition, the evidence collected to date did not justify legal action by the Commission,” said Beth Wilkinson, outside counsel to the Commission.

Did the White House secretly command the FTC to declare that they had no evidence to support a lawsuit as Senator Mike Lee alleges?

As White House spokesman Eric Schultz said yesterday, the administration meets with business leaders "all the time" with Google being no exception. The idea that a conspiracy was agreed to during meetings with Google executives is amusing to me because if the White House had made secret deals with the oil industry or Wall Street executives that are harmful to average Americans, I imagine Republicans would welcome it. A secret deal that allows fracking on the fucking White House lawn would probably solicit thunderous applause from their side of the chamber during a State of the Union address.

Google was apparently just as amused as I am as they produced a blog post addressed to Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal regarding the salacious information they uncovered.

Of course we’ve had many meetings at the White House over the years. But when it comes to the information the Journal provided to Google about these meetings, our employment records show that 33 of the White House visits were by people not employed here at the time. And over five visits were a Google engineer on leave helping to fix technical issues with the government’s website (something he’s been very public about). Checking through White House records for other companies, our team counted around 270 visits for Microsoft over the same time frame and 150 for Comcast.

And the meetings we did have were not to discuss the antitrust investigation. In fact, we seem to have discussed everything but, including patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies.

As Google points out, the states of Texas and Ohio and the countries of Germany and Brazil also found no evidence to support a lawsuit against the company.

We can laugh, but Senator Mike Lee and his investigation still exists. I may continue laughing.