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FTC Hires Economist, Texas AG Case 'Looms Large'

Yet another sign has emerged that the Federal Trade Commission is serious about preparations to bring a case against Google for antitrust and consumer protection law violations if the company continues to refuse to change its anti-competitive practices on its own through permanent and legally binding agreements.

The FTC hired Rich Gilbert, a former top economist at the Justice Department, to be a lead economist in the commission’s probe of Google’s business practices, Politico reported. Gilbert is a graduate school professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Politico reported:

“The hiring of an outside economist in an antitrust case as large and complex as the Google probe is common, experts say. But it’s also a clear sign that the FTC has escalated its antitrust investigation and is preparing in case it brings litigation against Google.

“‘It’s a precaution they would be taking in the case of litigation. You would hire an external economist to serve as your expert,’ former FTC Chairman Bill Kovacic said.”

Gilbert’s hiring follows the FTC’s hiring of Beth Wilkinson earlier this year as outside counsel in the Google case. From 1993 to 1995, Gilbert served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department. He specializes in competition policy, intellectual property, and research and development, according to his university bio, and has published on the impact of business conduct and/or mergers on innovation.

In other news, a report by Governing highlighted the investigation of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott into Google’s business practices, and suggested that attorneys general could band together to help advance the investigation underway by the FTC.

“Among the states wrangling with Google, Texas looms large. Its inquiry explores whether the Silicon Valley giant uses its monopoly power to favor its content and services — a theme central to the FTC probe. In June, Abbott filed a civil suit against Google that seeks access to documents the company allegedly refused to provide. Texas also is part of a multistate group that includes California, New York and Ohio that monitors Google’s business practices and could be ready to pounce if momentum builds toward litigation, sources say.”

The Governing piece explores the important role played by state attorneys general in past major antitrust cases brought in the U.S.

With the European Commission pushing for Google to propose permanent and real, significant changes that would permanently end business practices under investigation, and the FTC bulking up its team should it need to bring a case against Google, it’s important not to forget that Texas and several other states are also at the forefront of the investigations looking into whether Google is violating the law, and how to bring a meaningful and permanent end to those practices as quickly as possible.