Google Petitions for Confidentiality Protection in Antitrust Probe

On October 31, Google petitioned to prevent sensitive business information from being revealed in a 50-attorney-general probe led by Texas for potential antitrust violations. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading the probe, which includes 48 U.S. states (excluding Alabama and California), Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Paxton hired two consultants that previously worked at rivals or critics of Google; consultants Cristina Caffarra, an economist that has worked at Microsoft and News Corp, and Eugene Burrus, former counsel for Microsoft.

The probe will look at whether Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, monopolized the online advertising markets using private user information. It will examine Google’s control of advertising and search traffic to investigate if it violated antitrust laws.  

“While many consumers believe the internet is free we know that the internet is not free,” Paxton said. “This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet.”

Google’s petition was filed with the District Court of Travis County, Texas. In the petition, Google raised concerns over the two consultants, asking the court to place measures around what information the consultants can share. Google wants to prevent the consultants from disclosing confidential information or working for rivals until one year after their consultation for Paxton’s probe ends. 

Google is critical of the two consultants. Reuters reports:

“Caffarra, a competition expert at Charles River Associates, was described as a ‘public critic’ of Google who has challenged the company’s business practices before the European Union, and in Russia on behalf of Yandex, a rival in that country.”

“The petition also said Burrus, an adviser to McKinsey & Co, claimed to have ‘developed’ a case that led to a $2.7 billion EU fine for Google in June 2017.”

In response, Marc Rylander, Spokesman for Paxton’s office, stated, “Google’s petition is nothing more than an effort to hamstring the investigation. But Google is not entitled to choose the states’ expert or run the states’ investigation.”

A spokesperson for the probe has assured that measures have been taken to ensure that the confidential information is only used in the probe.

“We’ve provided millions of pages of documents in response to regulatory inquiries, and we’re committed to cooperating,” Google said in a statement. “But this is an extraordinarily irregular arrangement and it’s only fair to have assurances that our confidential business information won’t be shared with competitors or vocal complainants.”

Google has previously been investigated and found to be violating the European antitrust law. The European Commission fined 1.49 billion euro Google for violating European Union rules.