Unreleased internal memos from the FTC dating from the Obama years suggest the agency dismissed substantial evidence that Google was attaining monopoly power, at a time when the company’s rise to dominance could have been stopped. The decision came at a time when former Google employees were deeply embedded within the Obama White House.
The memos, obtained by Politico, show that FTC commissioners took the unusual step of rejecting recommendations from investigators to sue the company over its monopoly power.
One former FTC chairman called the decision not to take action “breathtaking.”
The FTC memos suggest Obama-era regulators passed on an opportunity to rein in Google when the company still had viable competitors. Eight years later, Google is the undisputed leader in both online and mobile search — a fact that will make it difficult for today’s prosecutors to craft a remedy even if their current lawsuits succeed.
The unreleased memos show that the FTC had evidence in its possession showing that Google was paying smartphone carriers, as well as a 2005 contract between Google and Apple with the former paying the latter half the revenue it received from ads in exchange for being the default search engine on Apple devices.
Google is now the dominant search engine on smartphones, with over 93 percent of the U.S. smartphone market captured. Its closest competitor, DuckDuckGo, occupies just over 2.5 percent of the market, while Yahoo and Microsoft occupy less than 2 percent each.
As Politico reports, the decision by the FTC to ignore the recommendations of its attorneys was highly unusual:
In most cases, commissioners of both parties follow the advice of the FTC attorneys, widely seen as experts in the cases they investigate, said Kovacic, who spent seven years as an FTC staffer before he became a commissioner and later chair under President George W. Bush.
The Google probe was different. In this case, the commissioners followed the recommendations of their staff economists, who argued that the mobile market for search was too small to pose an antitrust issue.
The decision not to prosecute came at a time when Google was deepening its ties to the Obama administration. Under Obama, over 250 individuals moved from Google to the White House or vice-versa, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept, then edited by Glenn Greenwald.
Not counting informal meetings, there was, on average, more than one meeting a week between Google staff and Obama administration staff from the beginning of his presidency to August 2016.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.