US lawmakers question FTC's antitrust investigation of Google

The agency's focus on unfair business practices would be an 'unwarranted' expansion of its power, two Democrats say

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission may be headed toward an "unwarranted" power grab in its antitrust investigation of Google, two lawmakers from Silicon Valley have said.

Various media reports have suggested the FTC may accuse Google of unfair or deceptive businesses in addition to traditional antitrust violations, but the additional charges would be an expanded role for the agency in antitrust cases, wrote Representatives Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, both California Democrats. "Such a massive expansion of FTC jurisdiction would be unwarranted, unwise, and likely have negative implications for our nation's economy," the two wrote in a Monday letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Some other lawmakers have also questioned the FTC's investigation of Google and its expected use of Section 5 of the FTC Act to charge Google with unfair business practices. This month, Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, raised similar concerns about the FTC's Google investigation, but the questions to Leibowitz from Eshoo and Lofgren come from fellow Democrats.

"Expanding the FTC's Section 5 powers to include antitrust matters could lead to overbroad authority that amplifies uncertainty and stifles growth," said the letter from Eshoo and Lofgren. "These effects may be most acutely felt among online services, a crucial engine of job creation, where technological advancement and small business innovation are rapid."

The letter also raised concerns about leaks to the news media involving "sensitive details" in the investigation. The FTC has "a responsibility to remain fair and impartial while protecting the confidentiality of internal discussions among the parties involved," the letter said.

In October, some media outlets reported on an FTC draft memo recommending that the agency file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.

One source with knowledge of the investigation has suggested that Google, and not the FTC, may be releasing details of the investigation to the media.

Google declined to comment on the letter. An FTC spokeswoman didn't immediately response to a request for comments.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags advertisingU.S. Federal Trade CommissionJon LeibowitzantitrustregulationAnna Eshoointernetgovernmentsearch enginesGoogleZoe LofgrenlegalJim DeMint

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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