- The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – the two US government agencies with jurisdiction over antitrust probes – reportedly worked out an arrangement that would give the DOJ oversight for a potential investigation into Google.
- However, the head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, once lobbied on behalf of Google during one of its most important and controversial acquisitions – DoubleClick.
- In 2007, the FTC was reviewing Google’s proposed $US3.1 billion acquisition of the online advertising company, DoubleClick, for potential antitrust violations. But with the help of lobbyists including Delrahim, Google was able to dissuade regulators from blocking the deal.
- Multiple antitrust experts who spoke to Business Insider on Monday said Delrahim may recuse himself from the investigation given his history with Google – though it’s possible that enough time has passed since the DoubleClick deal in 2007 that it may not come to that.
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – the two US government agencies with jurisdiction over antitrust probes – reportedly worked out an arrangement that would give the DOJ oversight over a potential investigation into Google.
That arrangement highlights a certain historical irony, however.
The head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, once lobbied on behalf of Google during one of its most important and controversial acquisitions of all time – DoubleClick.
In 2007, the FTC was reviewing Google’s proposed $US3.1 billion acquisition of the online advertising company for potential antitrust violations, given how much more powerful it could make the search giant in the market.
Google brought on Washington lobbyists, including Delrahim, to dissuade regulators from blocking the DoubleClick deal. In the end, regulators were not convinced that acquiring DoubleClick would give Google an unfair advantage in the digital advertising space.
“The markets within the online advertising space continue to quickly evolve, and predicting their future course is not a simple task…Because the evidence did not support the theories of potential competitive harm, there was no basis on which to seek to impose conditions on this merger,” the FTC said in a statement at the time.
By 2018, Google’s ads business brought in over $US130 billion in revenues. That same year, Google accounted for 37% of all digital ad spend in the US – higher than any other company by more than 15%.
According to a source on Capitol Hill who spoke to Business Insider, the DOJ’s investigation will not only be limited to the tech giant’s ad business, but may look at “everything” about Google. That could include Google Search – which Google had over 84% market share in the US in 2018 – and its Android operating system, which powers roughly 88% of smartphone devices worldwide.
Amid a growing call to break up major tech companies – especially from politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren – the DOJ may find itself in a position where it will have to decide whether Google’s dominance has gone too far.
But it remains to be seen whether or not Delrahim himself will be the one leading the charge at the DOJ. Multiple antitrust experts who spoke to Business Insider on Monday, including New York University Law Professor Harry First, said Delrahim might very well recuse himself from the investigation given his history with Google.
“I assume that he would” recuse himself, First said. “He represented [Google] in an acquisition that is, in a sense, one of the issues – what DoubleClick does.”
Since Delrahim’s work for Google was back in 2007, however, enough time may have passed that he could potentially lead the probe, experts said.
Google declined to comment. The DOJ did not immediately responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.
News of the potential antitrust investigation into Google was followed by a wave of reports indicating that the US government is laying out the groundwork for similar probes into other tech giants. According to reports, the DOJ would oversee potential investigations into Google and Apple, and the FTC would oversee those into Amazon and Facebook.
Although no formal antitrust investigations have been announced, the divvying of turf among the DOJ and FTC appears to be the government’s first step into putting the tech industry’s largest companies under the microscope in the search for monopolistic practices. Curbing these tech giants’ power has been on the rise in recent political rhetoric.
In March, Senator Warren published a Medium post outlining her plan to “unwind” big tech companies, including Facebook, Amazon, and Google. In a subsequent interview with The Verge, she added Apple to the list of companies she would like to see broken up.
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