WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Critics of Google, fearing that an antitrust investigation into the search giant by the Federal Trade Commission will not produce a strong conclusion, may be ready to take their grievances next to the Justice Department.
At least one Google adversary met with Justice Department officials recently, pressing them to investigate, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.
The FTC is believed to be close to wrapping up an investigation into accusations that the search giant uses its dominance to squash competitors in shopping and travel, blocks rivals’ access to its Android wireless operating system, and asks courts to stop sales of products that it says infringe essential patents.
“The entire technology industry wants to see the FTC take action,” said one lawyer following the probe. “If the FTC lets down the entire tech industry, the next time the tech industry has a concern they’re going to go to the DOJ (Justice Department).”
The lawyer also pointed to the possibility of congressional hearings aimed at probing the FTC itself if the agency reached what Google critics considered a weak conclusion.
Gary Reback, who also represents Google’s critics, said he had not taken clients to meet with the Justice Department recently because it was “too early to throw in the towel with the FTC.”
“This goes well beyond an emotional response. If the FTC isn’t equipped to deal with this, they shouldn’t have taken it on in the first place,” said Reback, who is with the law firm Carr & Ferrell LLP. “Believe me, I know how to find the (Justice Department) antitrust division.”
Both the Justice Department and the FTC enforce antitrust law, although the commission has more arrows in its quiver because it can pursue companies for ill-defined “unfair” practices while the Justice Department cannot, said David Balto, an FTC veteran now in private practice.
Balto doubted that the Justice Department would take up action against Google.
“They’re (the Justice Department) going to say ‘no,’” he said. “What are we going to do? At the end of every investigation are we going to let people change the rules and change courts?”
A decision by the FTC is expected by the end of the year. The European Commission, which is also probing Google, is expected to announce a decision next month.
Reporting By Diane Bartz