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Politico Pro: Rosch Wanted to Sue Google for Deceptive Practices

Politico Pro reported today that there is more to the story of the Federal Trade Commission’s disappointing decision to not address Google’s deceptive and anti-competitive practices in a meaningful way.

J. Thomas Rosch, the outgoing FTC commissioner who often was the swing vote on the commission, told Politico Pro he sought to sue Google for lying to users about why it collects their personal information. Politico Pro reporter Steve Friess wrote:

“Rosch, an antitrust litigator who is scheduled to leave office on Friday after seven years on the commission, said he believes that Google’s claim in its privacy disclosure that it collects personal information to improve the user experience is a ‘half-truth.’  He believed they’re really collecting the information to maximize their profits.

“‘That was a fictitious claim,’ Rosch said. ‘I knew we’d have to litigate that. It was clear to me, because that would wound them very deeply if they had to change that claim.’”

The story did not elaborate on why other commissioners did not sign onto Rosch’s approach, which would have used consumer protection laws to bring a case.

Politico Pro also reported that the commission and Google’s voluntary agreement on advertising data and the “scraping” or excerpting of content from sites like Yelp didn’t even garner a majority of the commissioners’ support, and Rosch said such an arrangement is bad precedent.

Politico Pro said Rosch’s desire to sue Google on consumer deception grounds is a “surprising new wrinkle to a post-mortem on the agency’s investigation.” While this news is intriguing, FairSearch remains disappointed the commission did not address Google’s anti-competitive practice of manipulating search. As the commission said in a statement on the decision:

“We nonetheless recognize that some of Google’s algorithm and design changes resulted in the demotion of websites that could, collectively, be considered threats to Google’s search business.”

Since the decision, many have taken notice of weakness of the decision, notably The New York Times and The New Yorker. In Jan. 9 piece New Yorker writer John Cassidy said:

“Whatever one thinks of Google, the fact is that it’s a quasi-monopoly in the search market and should be treated as one. That is where the settlement fell down.

“Rather than formally recognizing Google’s enormous market power in search, and putting the company on notice that its actions will be closely scrutinized going forward, the F.T.C. dismissed the most important complaints about its behavior as the whining of competitors … The second thing that the F.T.C. should have done is register more concern about the way Google manages its search engine, which is an essential utility in the online ecosystem.”

While the FTC fell short of achieving its mission of protecting American consumers, the attorneys general and European Commission can and should take strong enforcement actions to make sure that fair and unbiased search results on Google do become a reality.