An impartial rule of law is one of the pillars of a free society, so the curious resolution of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe into alleged anti-competitive practice by Google should be cause for concern even for those of us who are skeptical of antitrust law.
The FTC investigated Google for nearly two years and concluded that it had engaged in abusive practices. The result? A letter from Google saying they won't do it again. No lawsuit. No binding consent decree. This from an administration that is otherwise extremely hostile to business, hyper-regulatory, and extremely aggressive in antitrust actions that don't involve Google. It's a disturbing triumph of Washington influence peddling, lobbying, and campaign politics. In a word: cronyism.
Whether we like it or not, the antitrust laws are on the books. The FTC found that Google improperly prevented its customers (advertisers - when you use the Google search engine, you aren't the customer; you're the product) from managing and analyzing campaigns across other platforms. The FTC also found that Google improperly scraped content like restaurant reviews from other websites without providing any mechanism for those sites to opt out.
Three FTC members, Republican Tom Rosch and Democrats Julie Brill and Chairman Jon Leibowitz all claim they favored moving forward with either a lawsuit or a binding consent decree. So it's a mystery that the result instead was simply a letter from Google making voluntary commitments to curb these practices. As the American Consumer Institute quipped: "Letting Google off with a letter promising not to do it again is like believing Lindsey Lohan will stay out of trouble this time."
Google got off the hook by reportedly spending over $25 million on lobbying, retaining no less than 12 separate lobbying firms. It also no doubt helped that Google personnel helped build and execute the Obama reelection campaign's vaunted data operation, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt was a high-level adviser to the campaign. Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, said: "For three hours we sat in a conference room, and he just gave me advice about all the mistakes he'd made, about purchasing supply chains, about HR, about the blocking and tackling of growing fast and making sure you have organizational objectives."
Google also hired Republican consultants like Patrick Ruffini to build support on the right, and found it from conservative heavyweights like the Heritage Foundation and Judge Robert Bork. But Google remains an overwhelmingly left-wing company dedicated to promoting big government in all areas that don't involve regulating Google.
Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the 2011 book Democracy Denied.
American Commitment is dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom.
Washingtonian magazine named Mr. Kerpen to their "Guest List" in 2008 and The Hill newspaper named Mr. Kerpen a "Top Grassroots Lobbyist" in 2011.
Mr. Kerpen's op-eds have run in newspapers across the country and he is a frequent radio and television commentator on economic growth issues.
Prior to joining American Commitment, Mr. Kerpen served as vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. Mr. Kerpen has also previously worked as an analyst and researcher for the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Kerpen currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife Joanna and their daughter Lilly.