Opening an anti-trust case against Google would be a huge mistake, and Congress might take action to stop it. That's what Rep. Jared Polis stated in a leaked letter addressed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) addressing rumors that the agency might be getting closer to investigating the search giant.
On Saturday, Reuters reported that four out of five FTC commissioners believe they should open an investigation into Google for abusing its dominant market position. Yesterday, The Hill published Polis' letter to FTC's chairman Jon Leibowitz.
"At a time when the national economy continues to stagnate," wrote Polis, "it's not clear to me why the FTC should be focusing on a product that consumers seem very happy with, search engines." Polis, who represents Colorado's Second Congressional District, used his past life to support his argument. Before running for Congress, Polis founded a few tech startups and his experience in the business has given him the chance to see Google's importance. "Search engines have democratized access to information," he wrote in the letter. "Search engines have also helped businesses tap new markets and new customers." Polis did not answer to our requests for comment.
The congressman also hinted that if the FTC finally decides to take action against Google, that "could ultimately lead to Congressional action resulting in a reduction in the ability of the FTC to enforce critical anti-trust protections in industries where markets are being distorted by monopolies or oligopolies." It is not clear exactly what kind of action Congress could take, and it's unclear how credible such a threat actually is. In fact, even though Polis is on the Judiciary committee, he's not in its Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet.
Contacted by Mashable, FTC spokesperson Cheryl Hackley said in an email the commission has no comment at this time.
In his letter, Polis echoed Google's usual argument against accusations of monopoly. "Competition is only a click away," he wrote, using exactly the same words Eric Schmidt used at a Senate hearing last year. The argument implies that on the Internet, users have so many choices that they only need a click to ditch Google. According to campaign contributions watchdog website OpenSecrets, Google is not among Polis' donors.
Critics of Google's dominance claim that the web giant willingly manipulates its search algorithm to lead users toward its own products instead of others, a practice that would hinder Google's competitors.
Some antitrust experts don't think Google is doing anything wrong, though. "Google's power in my view comes not from its large market share, but from the fact that consumers are unable to evaluate the product," Mark R. Patterson, a Fordham law professor who focuses on antitrust law, told the New York Times in April. "It would be difficult to decide in many cases whether the results are exclusionary in a bad way or in a way that helps consumers."
If the FTC ends up opening an investigation into Google and eventually sues, it would be the biggest antitrust case since the one brought against Microsoft in the late '90s.