Texas Attorney General 'Investigating' Google, With Little Basis In Reality
from the not-this-again dept
I’m beginning to think we need a series of posts on “State Attorneys General Gone Wild.” We’ve discussed the insider’s view from Topix’ Chris Tolles about how state attorneys general grandstand against tech sites, despite having absolutely no legal basis. We’ve seen it happen over and over and over and over and over again (most recently with Craigslist — a favorite target).
Late Friday, the news broke that Texas’ AG was “investigating” Google for antitrust violations, using the trio of companies that have been mentioned for a while now — Foundem, MyTriggers and TradeComet — who have all been making a stink about how Google is somehow violating antitrust laws because those three sites don’t like their rankings in Google. All three claim that they’re competitors to Google, and Google is somehow trying to hold them down. This is, frankly, ridiculous. As has been explained over and over again, rankings are an opinion, protected by free speech rights. And, furthermore, if Google was really trying to keep competitors down, wouldn’t it actually focus on players that actually matter in the space? Besides, if you look on Google, you can easily find highly ranked links to all sorts of Google competitors. It’s also worth mentioning, of course, that all three of these companies have some sort of connection to Microsoft.
So, once again, we have some silly grandstanding, and it’s not at all clear what Texas has to do with any of this. None of the companies are based in Texas, and Google’s not breaking any laws here. It seems like just more grandstanding by a state AG against Google. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, because unlike sites like Topix and Craigslist, Google might actually have enough clout to not just give in and settle.
Meanwhile, Danny Sullivan does a nice job summarizing the ridiculousness of this (that’s the link above):
My view is the arguments are generally absurd. None of these companies are large enough to pose any threat to Google, to the degree it would be compelled to take such stupid action. Moreover, if Google’s going to act to block a competitor, I’d expect it to pick bigger targets — say like Microsoft.
And for the legal view, we turn to Eric Goldman who sums it up with the title “Are You Kidding Me???”:
I’m always amazed by people who forget that Google’s organic search and ad ordering are editorial processes fully protected by the First Amendment. Part of this myopia is Google’s own fault. It has so successfully sold itself as a technology platform that we forget about the editorial processes embedded in its core business. As a result of those judgments, any legal challenges to Google’s search practices runs squarely into serious First Amendment considerations.
I’m also intrigued by the potential role of 47 USC 230(c)(2), a federal law which basically insulates websites’ filtering decisions from any state law causes of action (except state wiretapping laws and possibly state IP claims). The interplay between 230(c)(2) and antitrust claims is hardly clear, but it’s possible that the Texas AG’s efforts are completely preempted by the federal statute.
Goldman also wonders what the actual result would be if Texas AG Greg Abbott “succeeds” in forcing Google to change its ranking process: “Let’s assume Texas can actually establish a case against Google’s algorithms. Then what? Will Greg Abbott start telling Google how it should run its search engine? It’s hard to imagine that the cure will be better than the disease.”
Finally, and in a way that no one else can, the folks over at Groklaw has an astoundingly detailed look at how ridiculous this claim is.