back to article Top American watchdog refuses to release infamous 2012 dossier into Google’s anti-competitive behavior

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has refused to release an infamous report into Google’s anti-competitive behavior, claiming that staff reports are exempt from America's Freedom of Information Act. "Unfortunately, we are not able to honor your request," FTC chair Joe Simons wrote to Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) this week …

  1. Fazal Majid

    Outrageous

    It is outrageous how executive branch agencies feel they can exempt themselves from Congressional oversight using transparently bogus arguments (it's not as if there are privacy matters like personnel files involved). Congress has subpoena powers and it's long past time they were exercised.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The FTC

    Even fitter for purpose than OFCOM...

    /s

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Congress

    Even fitter for purpose than British MPs...

    /s

  4. Winkypop Silver badge

    Google

    Show no evil

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's that phrase I'm searching for again?

    Ah yes, "Regulatory Capture".

  6. chivo243 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Big deep pockets

    Google has them, and it feels like a lot of people in positions of authority are in them as well.

  7. Danny 2 Silver badge

    There is no Internet B

    We need to act now. Already some parts of the internet are uninhabitable, in less than twenty years we will reach a tipping point of inanity, and that is only one letter away from insanity.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: There is no Internet B

      I'm pretty sure we reached that point already. You seriously think there's another 20 years of life left in the Internet we have now?

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

        Re: There is no Internet B

        I have this view that eventually there will be more than one internet, one owned by the corporates that becomes a morass of crap similar to as it is today, and then another totally legal "neutral" internet, similar to the dark web, but less full of perverts, drug pedelers and hitmen, This is where the rebellion live (i.e. the normal people).

        1. Cris E

          Re: There is no Internet B

          I have this view that eventually there will be more than one internet, one owned by the corporates that becomes a morass of crap similar to as it is today, and then another totally legal "neutral" internet, similar to the dark web, but (CUT - PASTE) a morass of crap similar to as it is today, This is where the rebellion live (i.e. the normal people).

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Splendid response

    After being asked to please publish the full report, the FTC answers that it is outside the scope of FOI requests. Congratulations on not answering the question in such a way that we instantly understand that you don't give a damn.

    Trump and the Republican Party has managed to literally behead justice and professionalism in almost every governmental agency. It is frightening to witness how quickly a country that once had a functional and fairly respectable system has become a banana republic.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Splendid response

      Johnson and the Conservative Party are doing their best to do the same thing over here.

      Do you remember when we used to criticise poorly-written laws on the bases that 'some future ill-willed government might intentionally misinterpret them' and abuse the electorate.

      We now have those governments.

      1. Trollslayer Silver badge

        Re: Splendid response

        The problem is that Labour are worse.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Splendid response

          When people say that, I ask myself in what quantifiable ways might Labour be worse than the present shower of shit who are currently in charge?

          They might be just as bad but for different reasons but I really doubt that they'd be worse.

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: Splendid response

            Careful what you wish for. If there's just one thing I've learned in 50-odd years, it's that things can always get worse.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Splendid response

          "The problem is that Labour are worse." said the Daily Fail, the Torygraph and Rupert Murdoch in unison.

          Well it must be true then...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Splendid response

            Unless they're talking about making poor people poorer.

        3. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: Splendid response

          The problem is that Labour are worse.

          Are they though?

          Really?

          1. DJO Silver badge

            Re: Splendid response

            Historically on every metric except low tax for the rich, Labour does far better than the Conservatives, but the right leaning press never report that accurately.

            Conservatives always increase borrowing but claim Labour is worse (they are not).

            The only times the national debt has been reduced is under Labour administrations but the Tories claim they are better economically (they are not).

            And so on and so on, the only thing the Tories are really good at is lying.

    2. Imhotep

      Re: Splendid response

      You seem to be trying to say that the Trump administration is in bed with Google? Most people would think otherwise.

      The report was written in 2014, two years before Obama left office. The FTC dealt with the matter while he was in office. You may - or may not - find this WSJ article on Google/Whitehouse contacts during the FTC investigation of interest:

      https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-makes-most-of-close-ties-to-white-house-1427242076

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: Splendid response

        Google isn't loyal to any party, they'll support whoever they think will lead to the greatest profit increases in the future. They supported Obama and the democrats in 2008 because they were pushing bills to encourage adopting new technologies, like cloud-based email. Google now supports Trump and the republicans because they are pushing for deregulation of private enterprise and reducing corporate taxes.

        Google isn't unique in that regard, every major corporation, especially publicly traded ones, are loyal to no one and nothing but the dollar.

        1. dnicholas Bronze badge

          Re: Splendid response

          They'll also get in bed with China if the price is right

          1. FIA

            Re: Splendid response

            They'll also get in bed with China if the price is right

            <Checks the 'Made in...' labels on a few things lying around....>

            Well, we're all guilty of that it seems.....

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Splendid response

      In this case it was a republican senator asking for the information, regarding a decision that was made in 2012 under Obama.

      It almost looks like Trump has instructed his cabinet officials to not respond to ANY congressional request for documents, because normally you'd think an official wouldn't mind releasing information about a decision he had no part in. Though I guess the logic is that giving up these documents to a republican request makes it harder to find an excuse when a democrat requests documents about decisions you WERE involved in.

  9. Dinanziame

    Thankfully, Trump is no friend of Google, so we might be able to learn more about this...

  10. silent_count

    Meh

    Unless there's a realky good reason not to, the work of public officials should be available to the tax-payers. That said, I'm finding it hard to care. I have little doubt that Google did favour their own products and services. So what?

    I also have little doubt that a Ford dealership would recommend using Ford parts and getting your car serviced by a Ford mechanic, regardless of what make or model you drive. I also suspect that your nearest iThingy store will tell you to only take your iThingy to an authorised iThingy repairer and only use them with other genuine iThingies.

    Time to light torches and wave the pitchforks in a mildly threatening manner?

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      The conclusions of the report may not have much effect on the commercial operations.

      But it's important that they have to operate in an environment where they may be and will be investigated and the results made public in order to avoid a growing culture of non-accountability.

      1. Imhotep

        Re: Meh

        The legal system in the US has always - in theory - operated under the premise that an investigation is only undertaken if there is reason to be believe a crime has been committed.

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Meh

        But it's important that they have to operate in an environment where they may be and will be investigated and the results made public in order to avoid a growing culture of non-accountability.

        Agreed. I think there's little reason why a finished report shouldn't be made public. Working documents I think need to be handled differently, ie they may reveal either commercially sensitive stuff, or what the FTC finds objectionable.. The former may make investigation targets (even) more obstructive, the latter give them a heads up about what to hide or where to focus their lobbying millions.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      But a auto dealership and a hardware company aren't search engines. They are making recommendations when asked, but it is not their job to provide information. In addition, no manufacturer of cars or phones currently has an effective monopoly on that market. Google, as a search engine, does have providing information as a primary purpose, and at the time (and now), their market share does place them very close to a monopoly in many countries. If they choose to bias their search results to promote other products, it could be considered abusing their market position, which violates antitrust and pro-competition legislation. Your analogy is inadequate.

      1. Imhotep

        Re: Meh

        Google and Facebook might also be considered monopolies over on-line advertisung that have engaged in anticompetitive practices.

        That may well be the thing that will cause them the most legal trouble.

        And if anyone ever is in a position to actually compare the metrics that they claim to advertisers to the real world numbers, I wouldn't be surprised if claims of fraud became a problem.

      2. silent_count

        Re: Meh

        @doublelayer I would suggest that Google, Ford and Apple are identical in the sense that if you ask them for information, you will be told the answer that suits them, and which may not exactly align with your interests.

        Speaking as someone who uses DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine and have at least tried Bing, I do not think Google has a search monopoly and Facebook will tell you that Google does not have an online advertising monopoly.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meh

      It's not about Google's finances per se, it's about the backdoor deals that Google and the government can get away with doing, behind closed doors and no transparency.

      Would it bother you more if the USG told Google it would turn a blind eye to the anti competitive behaviour if Google allowed them unfettered access to all the personal data they hold?

    4. veti Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      The comparison would be valid if Ford started buying up and maintaining roads, and some time later it was found that any vehicle that wasn't a Ford would sustain damage when it drove along it.

      Google made its name as a general-purpose search engine - not as an index of Google products.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Headline from the future (or Onion headline from today)

    FTC chair Joe Simons resigns to become Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at Google. Compensation unknown at this time.

    "I was inspired by the fine example of FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker," Simons explained, "who voted to approve Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal and resigned a few months later to become NBC Universal's senior veep for government affairs. And let me tell you, that was one hell of a payday for Meredith! I mean, Michael Powell served out his full term as FCC chair before rotating out to become president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, but who has that kind of time anymore? Why should members of Congress hog all of the gravy? There's plenty to go around, especially if you've never been caught banging an intern! Rolling monopolies and deferred payoffs are where it's at, baby! They said the Federal Trade Commission was a stepping stone to nowhere, but look at me now! Ka-CHING!"

    On a more serious note, nothing is preventing the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepeneurship from subpoenaing the FTC report. If they don't, that means either (1) Senator Hawley is grandstanding or (2) a majority of the Committee is shaking down Google for campaign support and deferred-payoff promises of their own. Or both. It's win-win-win -- so long as you're not taking consumers and Google's competitors into account.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Headline from the future (or Onion headline from today)

      The committee can only issue a subpoena if the whole Senate has asked it to conduct an investigation into - something that the subpoena would be relevant to. I don't know if any such investigation is currently open.

      If not, then it's not just members of the committee, but the whole senate that would need to be squared.

  12. tempemeaty

    I think it's pretty clear who the FTC works for now...

  13. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Stop

    The Never-ending Road

    "I understand your desire for transparency," the letter continued, before refusing to release the report because it is a staff report and they are "deliberative, pre-decisional, and an integral part of the FTC's decision-making process,” and hence outside the scope of FOIA legislation.

    As the more dodgy shifty-eyed police spokesmen here in Britain evade: "We cannot comment on on-going investigations." even to basic non-incriminating questions.

    Therefore the solution must be to continue the process forever.

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: The Never-ending Road

      About a million of the commemorative Brexit 50p coins that are now having to be melted down were minted before Boris Johnson chose to pull his Brexit deal and seek a delay, it has emerged.

      But the government has refused to say how much the operation cost, citing commercial sensitivity.

      Guardian

  14. steviebuk Silver badge

    I wonder...

    ...if the FTC has lots of brown envelopes. Hmm. For sending post of course ;o)

  15. adam payne Silver badge

    They were never going to release anything.

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