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It is astonishing that Politico is the publisher of a whole series on damning leaked documents, “The Google Files.”
But 312 pages of confidential internal memos obtained by POLITICO reveal what the FTC’s lawyers and economics experts were thinking — including assumptions that were contradictory at the time and many that turned out to be incorrect about the internet’s future, Google’s efforts to dominate it and the harm its rivals said they were suffering from the company’s actions. The memos show that at a crucial moment when Washington’s regulators might have had a chance to stem the growth of tech’s biggest giants, preventing a handful of trillion-dollar corporations from dominating a rising share of the economy, they misread the evidence in front of them and left much of the digital future in Google’s hands.
Hundreds of pages of unreleased internal FTC memos, obtained by POLITICO, show for the first time that the agency’s commissioners dismissed substantial evidence to support the monopoly claim, including taking the rare step of rejecting a recommendation by staff investigators to sue.
The contracts at the center of the fight made Google the default search engine on almost all U.S. smartphones and locked in that exclusivity for years, giving the company a major advantage just as Americans were starting to flock to smartphones. In its antitrust suit against Google last October, DOJ revealed that the company pays as much as $12 billion a year to Apple alone to keep its search engine as the default on iPhones, iPads and the Safari browser.
These complaints and others, detailed in documents obtained by POLITICO, offer a new glimpse of the depth of rivalry among three tech powers that now rank among the United States’ most valuable companies. Years before Facebook and Amazon would face their own antitrust scrutiny at the Federal Trade Commission, they turned to the FTC in 2012 to complain privately that Google was undercutting their businesses, even as both companies publicly teamed up with Google on lobbying efforts in Washington.
- FTC staff urged the agency’s five commissioners to sue Google for signing exclusive contracts with Apple and the major wireless carriers that made sure the company’s search engine came pre-installed on smartphones.
- Google reprogrammed its search algorithm in 2007 so that its products would occupy the top spot in search results, demoting products from rivals like Yelp, Amazon or comparison-shopping sites such as NexTag, TheFind and Shopzilla. Those demotions were so unpopular with users that Google was forced to reverse them.
- Amazon and Facebook privately complained to the FTC about Google’s conduct, saying their business suffered because of the company’s search bias, scraping of content from rival sites and restrictions on advertisers’ use of competing search engines. Excerpts from their complaints reveal that they were trying to undermine Google’s arguments even as they publicly stayed mum about the investigation.
- The FTC staff made a series of wrong judgments about the future of technology.
The woman who served as the Federal Trade Commission’s lead lawyer in 2012 is now at Facebook. One of Microsoft’s lawyers at the time is now in the running to head the Biden Justice Department’s antitrust division. Many of the people who were involved in the FTC’s Obama-era probe of Google are still players in the antitrust fights involving the tech giants — sometimes for the opposite side.
It is also telling that the Federalist and every other “conservative” outlet failed to get the goods years ago. Who benefits from these revelations to an establishment leftist publisher? How is it that conservative media never get these major leaks? James O’Keefe and Project Veritas are remarkable outliers in the conservative media. Between Real Clear Investigations, the Federalist, legacy print, and Fox News, we should see more disclosures at more politically relevant times.Published in