Where to begin with the FairSearch.org event yesterday morning? As anyone familiar with the National Taxpayers Union is aware, we are skeptical of antitrust policy – we questioned the government’s actions against Microsoft in the late ‘90s, defended the T-Mobile/AT&T merger proposition, and have also criticized the current Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) investigation of Google.
So, two intrepid NTU staff members attended the anti-Google “Fair Search” coalition’s panel event to partake in the American tradition of hearing another side’s arguments. Upon stepping foot in Fair Search territory, Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift was swept away by Fair Search agents while bravely passing out information before the event had even begun.
Fortunately, the author of this post avoided becoming an “unperson” thanks to an affinity for the food table, and returned to the panel room safely. What followed in the official program were some frankly startling arguments for international government collusion in an effort, no, not to respond to riots in Egypt or Libya, but to put the cuffs on Google’s search engine operation.
While the program started with a decent enough summary of the legal landscape the FTC is looking at by Bert Foer of the American Antitrust Institute (who clarified his organization has no stance on the current FTC investigation), the program quickly descended into shocking calls for government power grabs, international destruction of an American company, and the typical complaints we’ve discussed on this blog before.
Two incredibly disturbing points stood out: First, that a long-term government “management” role/entity is a real possibility (and more or less likely, depending on the speaker) and second, that there should be an International coordinated “solution” to the Google “problem.”
Admitting long-term government search regulation may well happen (which polling shows people do not want):
On this Foer said, “Behavioral remedies… would require bureaucratic oversight on an ongoing, perhaps long-term basis, and that’s difficult, on the other hand… the Obama administration has chosen to use these types of behavioral remedies.”
Former Antitrust division lawyer Jim O’Connell said that was not their goal: “When folks think about remedies I would encourage you not to think we are talking about regulating search.” then immediately went on to say, “(There are other options,) those might be behavioral remedies which would be monitored by the (FTC)… a technical committee could be appointed to oversee things.”
So, not “regulation” regulation, but government entities you know, enforcing stuff in the private economy. Never mind the fact this soft “enforcement” approach is something these interests have NO control over. Once government’s through this door, they decide where to walk.
Tech-Progress head Nathan Newman (who railed against Microsoft in the ‘90s) thought regulatory options were likely needed: “Any remedy, I know there’s a reason people don’t want to have any regulatory-type interventions, but it’s very hard to see short of very very deep structural separations, hiving off every source of user data Google has, and other regulatory approaches, that’s going to deal with this.”
Perhaps most new and shocking were the calls for an international assault on Google and adoption of European laws on antitrust.
Former FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones was most gung-ho on this front: “Maybe you get together a global task force and have regulators from all around the world … and come up with a comprehensive global solution for global consumers of the Internet.”
Foer added on this, “I testified (to the FTC) saying I thought it would be a great idea if they could use Section V as a bridge between America’s Section II anti-monopoly statute and Europe’s “abuse of dominance” provision.”
It is certainly scary that Microsoft, Expedia, and other FairSearch.org partners are sponsoring an effort to internationalize the U.S. antitrust laws and unleash government on the Internet (and Google’s only the first step), all because they can’t understand market competition.
All we can do for these special interests is warn them once again, that calling in the government wolves on Google, is playing with a dangerous pack of animals indeed. The FTC and progressive policy makers have been pining for more government involvement in this sector and will happily partake in the Fair Search effort, sooner or later turning on their “partners” in the future once they have the power over the Internet that they seek.
For concerned American citizens though, you can stand up and fight against these reckless antitrust investigations that threaten to make American free market tradition subservient to international antitrust laws … and which threaten to release a new regulatory regime on the most free and productive sector of the economy.