Google basically said that yes, some former and current Google employees have visited the White House quite a lot in recent years. But, they weren’t there to discuss the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust probe into the company, as it says The Wall Street Journal insinuates.
“In fact, we seem to have discussed everything but,” Google writes.
The tension between the paper and Google started after The WSJ recently published a major story about the FTC’s 2012 investigation into Google’s anticompetitive practices, after accidentally obtaining the staff’s internal report through an unrelated Freedom of Information Act request. The paper then published a follow-up story about the number of White House visits Google employees during the FTC’s deliberations about its antitrust investigation.
“As the federal government was wrapping up its antitrust investigation of Google Inc., company executives had a flurry of meetings with top officials at the White House and Federal Trade Commission,” the WSJ story begins. It then goes on to say that Google employees have visited the White House 230 times since President Obama took office, based on visitor logs. The piece doesn’t claim to know the content of many of the meetings, but points out how many took place right before the FTC made its decision to drop its antitrust probe.
In a blog post published Friday evening, Google SVP of communications and policy Rachel Whetstone addresses specific claims from the WSJ piece, including the number of White House visits Google made and that the Bureau of Economics findings disagreed with the findings of the FTC.
“Given the inaccuracies that have been published, we wanted to give our side of the story,” she writes.
Here’s Google’s full post, titled “Really, Rupert?” (GIFs their own):
Last year Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, accused Google of creating a “less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society.” Given the tone of some of your publications, that made quite a few people chuckle.
This week you were at it again. One of your newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, accused Google of wielding undue political influence. Blimey!
More seriously, given the inaccuracies that have been published, we wanted to give our side of the story. Here goes.
Wall Street Journal:
“The findings [from the Bureau of Competition] stand in contrast to the conclusion of the FTC’s commissioners, who voted unanimously in early 2013 to end the investigation.”.
As the FTC made clear this week: “… the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel” (something the Journal has chosen not to report).
Wall Street Journal:
“Since Mr. Obama took office, employees of the Mountain View, Calif., company have visited the White House for meetings with senior officials about 230 times … In comparison, employees of rival Comcast Corp., also known as a force in Washington, have visited the White House a total of about 20 times … Google’s knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit”.
Of course we’ve had many meetings at the White House over the years. But when it comes to the information the Journal provided to Google about these meetings, our employment records show that 33 of the White House visits were by people not employed here at the time. And over five visits were a Google engineer on leave helping to fix technical issues with the government’s Healthcare.gov website (something he’s been very public about). Checking through White House records for other companies, our team counted around 270 visits for Microsoft over the same time frame and 150 for Comcast.
And the meetings we did have were not to discuss the antitrust investigation. In fact, we seem to have discussed everything but, including patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies. For example:
- Several visits were advertising industry meetings attended by Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others. Yes, Microsoft, the main complainant in the FTC’s antitrust investigation;
- Over a dozen visits were for production crews covering the YouTube interviews with the President following the State of the Union and photographing the White House art collection for Google’s Art Project;
- One of the meetings specifically called out by the Journal was actually a meeting with our Chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, with several other technology companies to discuss copyright legislation (the draft SOPA/PIPA laws that were ultimately dropped by Congress).
As the FTC has said, the Journal “makes a number of misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC’s investigation. The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission’s decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative”.
We understand you have a new found love of the regulatory process, especially in Europe, but as the FTC’s Bureau of Competition staff concluded, Google has strong pro-competitive arguments on our side. To quote from their report “… the record will permit Google to show substantial innovation, intense competition from Microsoft and others, and speculative long-run harm”.
And the FTC was not alone when it comes to search ranking and display. The Texas and Ohio Attorneys General closed their comprehensive competition investigations into Google in 2014. And courts in Germany and Brazil found that there is no basis in the law for Google competitors to dictate Google’s search results.
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