Ex-FTC Officials Remind Current FTC Officials That They're Supposed To Protect Consumers, Not Competitors

from the important-point dept

Two former FTC chairs, James Miller and Daniel Oliver, have written an opinion piece chiding the current FTC for its antitrust investigation into Google. As we’ve noted in the past, politicians seem to be going after Google simply because it’s a convenient target that’s big, and not because of any clear harm for consumers. Some Google competitors don’t like Google very much, but that’s no reason to call out the antitrust guns:

Antitrust is for consumer welfare, not competitor welfare.

In the Reagan years, we were always suspicious of whining competitors. We were suspicious because our view of antitrust law, shaped by Robert Bork and other scholars, was, and still is, that antitrust law should maximize the welfare of consumers, not of competitors.

Has anyone heard consumers complaining about Google? We have not, probably because consumers are under no pressure to use Google. They do so because they get what they want from Google, and they get it for free.

Furthermore, they point out just how quickly things change in the online world:

When Google was started in 1998, Yahoo was the dominant search engine — by far. Today Yahoo struggles to survive. Only a few years ago, Microsoft seemed a giant, standing astride the digital world. Today its business model is threatened, the competitive marketplace shifting under its feet from licensed software to cloud-based computing. Last year’s hot IPOs — Yelp, LinkedIn, and Groupon — didn’t even exist five years ago.

I would have no problem with the FTC going after Google if there were significant evidence of consumer harm, but no one seems to be able to show that there is any. At all. They just show that Google is big. But, big companies online seem to have a way of fading quickly… mainly by missing the next big thing. Already, we’ve seen Google struggle (multiple times) to compete with Facebook on social networking, which is taking over a bigger and bigger part of online life (and shielding much of that content from Google). So, once again, we have to ask why there’s such a focus on investigating Google these days, other than because some competitors don’t like competing.

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Comments on “Ex-FTC Officials Remind Current FTC Officials That They're Supposed To Protect Consumers, Not Competitors”

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isaac Kotlicky (profile) says:


Too bad RIAA/MPAA aren’t considered “companies” for the purposes of trust-busting. I would love to see them targeted for their crooked dealings, bribery, and collusion at the expense of the general public in order to pad their pockets.

Unfortunately, with the market-centric manner in which anti-trust laws are applied, there is a tendency to ignore the capacity to abuse their power with supra-market forces.

Laissez-faire economics = Great (it’s why monopolies fail long term)
Laissex-faire politics = insidious evil (it’s the only thing keeping the IP old-guard afloat)


Anonymous Coward says:


Please don’t put it in the “1%/99%” way. It’s distracting and works against your point, because it sounds like you dislike people because they’re successful. Not all rich people exploit the system, and not everyone else considers them adversaries.

So let’s put it like this:
“Companies are abusing the legal system intended to benefit consumers to harm their competitors. This is the same problem with broad patents. We need to cut down those abuses whenever possible, so that all of us will be better off.”

Anonymous Coward says:

“I would have no problem with the FTC going after Google if there were significant evidence of consumer harm”

Google, Facebook, and a few others (like your happy toolbar provider at the bottom of the page) track way too much information about you.

Google is a big offender because they have reached the point of individual tracking – they have your gmail account, a browser, the most popular content grifting site (youtube), a search engine, advertising, a social network, etc… all working in concert to track your every move online in order to “provide you better ads”. Google has a page that lets you check what they think of you, and it’s pretty eerie to see your entirely life laid out in front of you as a series of areas of interest and such.

They know too much about you, plain and simple – there is little or no consumer benefit, just business benefit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lets be fair, there is some complaining about google from customers recently, about their privacy policies. Could the government do more to protect people’s Internet privacy, certainly, but I don’t see how it’s an anti-trust monopoly issue, sounds more like congress needing to pass a new law about how companies can use/treat customers privacy data.

Paul L (profile) says:


You still have a choice to use Google and Facebook or seek other alternatives. You’re not forced to use Chrome, Gmail, Google Search, or any of their other products if you don’t like the “cost” of using them.

For many of us un-biased consumers; we LIKE their products and accept the cost of using them. It’s certainly better AGREEING to use a product knowing that they are going to try and build a demographic profile of their users than not having a choice at all.

With some of the MPAA/RIAA legislation that has been proposed; I think you would have a greater concern that your ISP could be inclined to do the same sort of thing with ALL of your traffic, opt in or not, for the benefit of big content.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


Umm, the consumer benefit is all the amazing and useful services and products they provide in exchange for collecting that information…

I fully understand why it makes some people uncomfortable – and I do think that everyone should be very aware of what is being recorded about them online, how and by whom.

But I also really don’t get the automatic “they track data thus they are evil” connection that so many people make. Ad-funded free services are an excellent model that allows us to have things like Gmail and YouTube, and advanced behavioral targeting can improve the quality of ads you see. Ads are not a bad thing! We all have products and services that we need or want, and plan to spend money on them, and advertising is a big part of how we find those things and make our decisions – there’s nothing fundamentally bad about that! Advertising is only bad when it is irrelevant to our lives, or dishonest and misleading…

So, I definitely think it’s important to have certain legal privacy protections, and to hold companies strictly accountable for how they handle data, and most importantly for people to be educated about privacy online so they can make smart choices – but I don’t actually have any fundamental problem with Google knowing a lot about me in order to improve the quality of the ads that pay for all sorts of free services I rely on.

el_segfaulto (profile) says:


Here’s a fun fact. Not every poor person is lazy, and not every rich person is a hard worker. People in the class of Mitt Romney will never have to work a day in their lives, they can put their daddy’s money in the bank and buy a small island nation off of the interest. It’s a damned travesty when he pays a lower income tax rate (13.9%) than the vast majority of middle-class United Statsians living paycheck to paycheck.

PaulT (profile) says:


“Google, Facebook, and a few others (like your happy toolbar provider at the bottom of the page) track way too much information about you.”

Don’t like it? Don’t use them. Some even provide tools for you to block their tracking, if you like.

“they have your gmail account, a browser, the most popular content grifting site (youtube), a search engine, advertising, a social network, etc…”

Every single one of those have numerous viable and popular competitors, some more popular and profitable than Google’s version. That’s pretty much the antithesis of antitrust.

Anonymous Coward says:

The FTC has been doing this a lot, look at the proposed AT&T – T-Mobile merger that was blocked by the FTC. Consumers would have benefitted from that merger because DT has no interest in investing in T-mobile. And if you are a T-mobile customer you should be pissed off, you would have gained much better coverage and increased data speeds. AT&T’s competitors bitched and moaned and the FTC acted to block the merger. I am not sure what the fate of T-mobile is but if I were one of its customers I would be looking for service with someone else.

As for Google, I don’t understand what the competitors are bitching about – make your page simple and people would have stayed. I use Google because the page isn’t covered in ads and large images therefor it’s faster to load. Their page ranking is better than the competition but that is because they have more traffic to create a better ranking system.

Rob8urcakes (user link) says:

Google Goo

Google’s official motto is “Do no evil”, but thanks to the pressure of the MAFIAA CopyWrong Cartel and their paid-for political puppets hell bent on censorship and destruction of the internet as well as our basic hard fought-for Human Rights, we now perceive Google’s motto as “We’ll do you evil”!

Help to protect the privacy and rights of your consumer or, like Facebook and Twitter, you too can move aside Google as new, more reliable and safer business models emerge.

It’s what the market wants that matters – not what businesses DEMAND we consumers to consume, yes?

That’s why laws such as SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP, P.ChIP, and OPEN etc will fail. We the People simply don’t want them.

A Monkey with Atitude (profile) says:


United Statsians? really?

So Mitt’s never worked, your own statement gives lie to that, if he pays income tax he has worked, no lived off “daddy’s” money.

Income tax is only one of many taxes, the combine total is what we need to look at. But then you want to come in and say “he didn’t pay enough income tax”, Really, what about the other taxes he paid you did not? Capital Gains tax? Corporate Tax (highest in the world, right here in the United Statsians)

So take the miss-direction and shovel it. I don’t like Mitt but i don’t like him based on actual facts not the drivel retards like to spew with no understanding of the facts and spewing political talking points.

Tax code is screwed, and the faster we abolish it and re-design it the better.

Mike42 (profile) says:

Consumer harm...

I don’t have a problem with Google, but I do have a problem with company mergers and consolidations which stifle competition and create conglomerates which are “too big to fail” especially in regulated industries. A large upfront cost to bring yourself in line with regulations is a startup killer, and therefore consumers and the economy are both harmed when these companies are allowed to aquire or merge (removing competiton). I’m thinking mainly of the food and drug industries, but I’m sure there are more.
In other words, direct consumer harm should not be the only yardstick. Competitive harm should be considered as well, at least for regulated industries (not low-cost industries like tech companies. That’s silly.)

MrWilson says:


Please don’t suggest that someone who rails against corruption and unethical business practices dislikes people because they’re successful. It’s perfectly valid to dislike people who are “successful” via unethical practices. When the government looks out for monied interests, nothing ethical is going on there. Being opposed to unethical practices is not “class warfare.”

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


The issue for consumers is as choice becomes more limited, prices go up. If there were 10 or 15 companies competing in the same space, then some of them will be competing on price, and some of them will be competing on service, and some of them will be competing on quality.

With only 3 companies competing, prices go up, and quality and service are often set to maximize profit rather than customer satisfaction.

Don’t be fooled by the few resellers of others products, as they are forced to use the price (wholesale) set by the Big 3, maybe or maybe not in actual conjunction with each other. This one is easy to get around. They don’t need to meet and set a price. They just have to play follow the leader, and incrementally raise prices over time, to the point where we are now, egregious profits, often poor quality and very poor customer service, which you cannot get away from as they all do it, and there is no real competition.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


“That’s a waste of an advertising dollar, and eliminating that waste would benefit everyone involved.”

I disagree. It would benefit everyone involved except for a large percentage of consumers.

The question is, is the consumer benefit of targeted advertising worth the cost to you, the consumer. If your case, personally, it is. You would prefer targeted advertising. But in my case, it most definitely is not. So I do the best I can to avoid being tracked.

In any case, I don’t think that anything Google is doing is engaging in the type of harm that the law should address. Google is still optional, and so consumers like myself can avoid it and even agitate against it if we are so moved.

If Google were abusing the information they gather, or if they were defrauding people or committing crimes, or if they were abusing a monopoly position, then law enforcement should absolutely be involved, but to the best of my knowledge none of those things are true or suspected.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


If Google were abusing the information they gather, or if they were defrauding people or committing crimes, or if they were abusing a monopoly position, then law enforcement should absolutely be involved, but to the best of my knowledge none of those things are true or suspected.

Precisely – we certainly agree on that. Though I must admit I have a hard time understanding why you don’t want more relevant advertising – but I’m sure you have your reasons.

MrWilson says:


Reading comprehension fail.

el_segfaulto stated – “People in the class of Mitt Romney will never have to work a day in their lives.”

“People in the class of Mitt Romney” does not equal “Mitt Romney.”

“will never have to work a day in their lives” does not equal “have never worked a day in their lives.”

What Mitt Romney is on record for doing is unethically profiting from the purchase and destruction of companies for profit.

And regarding corporate tax: The Corporate Tax Rate Is Lowest in Decades

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


I think he’d prefer no advertising over targeted advertising.

You can have that preference – as long as you realize that you are going to have to start paying for a LOT of stuff that is free, and paying MORE for a lot of stuff that is cheap.

If you’re prepared to pay for TV, radio, all forms of news, web mail, web search, public transit, and every other service that is ad-supported or ad-subsidized – then by all means, condemn advertising. If not, better re-think that.

I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I believe that the core concept of advertising is a very good economic arrangement that in its ideal form benefits everyone involved (though, obviously, it can be abused). And I think that once people get past the kneejerk reaction of “ew, commercials!” they will realize the same thing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


Whether of not advertising is relevant to my needs doesn’t affect me in any way. I find targeted advertising to be no more or less appealing than nontargeted advertising. However, I do object to the amount of data that must be accrued about me in order to target the advertising.

I consider giving up that data a cost, and I get no gain, therefore I dislike targeted advertising.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:


I don’t mind advertising, but there is very little of it in my life. Turn off the TV and radio and cut the cable and it’s stunning how little advertising is left in the world. I barely notice web ads, and I can’t even remember seeing ads on Google, but I guess they’re there somewhere.

And yes you pay more, but not very much. That’s why I pay for Netflix, and the day they start running ads is the day I cancel.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


Curiously the same accusations were made about Yahoo “back in the day” before Google took over the search market. And the same fears were expressed.

Often by people who use loyalty cards to get deals, Credit Cards with Air Miles stamped all over them, and similar ways of corporate tracking of our likes, dislikes and preferences.

I don’t really care what Google thinks it knows about me because if it uses cookies to track my likes and dislikes it’s gonna be led a long way away from who I really am, what I really like and what my inner thoughts and opinions really are from day to day.

So they want to serve better ads? Hasn’t really happened for me yet but who knows, maybe one day in the future it will.

There are 7 billion people on this planet more than half of whom use the Internet at least once a day. The data overload is terrific.

Oh, and I have looked at my page in Google. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t be more wrong about me.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Google is on a lot of radars

Sadly the best thing to do in this era of IP maximalists, particularly in the patent arena is to load up on them yourself. IBM is sitting on several supertankers worth of patents, other tech companies including Microsoft are sitting on their won supertanker loads and even the FOSS movement is sitting on a few large shiploads of its own patents.

Most of this waste of space, time, money and desks for lawyers is, I regret to say, defensive. And a way for these companies and movements to protect themselves from patent trolls and a quick trip to the home and native land of such trolls otherwise known as West Texas.

Personally, I’d be shocked if the vast majority of tech patents would stand up to an honest challenge, honestly judged. Particularly the software variety.

OK, so Google wants it’s cut of Motorla patents by not raising the licensing price should it be successful in grabbing Motorola. I’m not going to concern myself at all about that.

If and when it starts to act like a patent troll, then, I’ll get worried. But not just because they’re Google.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Google is on a lot of radars

Today’s big tech companies are being held accountable now, just like other big companies have been in the past. Current issues: Apple and China. Apple and control. Google and patents. Google and privacy. Facebook and privacy.

There is a growing awareness that small companies grow into big companies and begin acting like big companies. People then catch on to these new power brokers and protest.

This becomes more evident when companies go public and make decisions based on the stock market rather than on “good citizen values.”

John Fenderson (profile) says:


Of course it has, but that has nothing to do with whether or not I like targeted advertising. I don’t use affiliate cards, either.

I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist, only that I consider allowing the data collection required to do it as a very real cost to me, and one that I value highly. When I engage in commerce (whether I’m paying dollars or not), I factor that cost in. Sometimes the value I get is such that it’s worth the cost, sometimes (usually) it’s not.

However, receiving targeted advertising is not a benefit to me and does not go into the plus side of that equation. All else being equal, I would dramatically prefer random inappropriately targeted ads over ones that I had to reveal personal data to receive, no matter how well targeted they are. Targeted advertising benefits advertisers and advertising agencies, but not me.

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