Google Ad Practices Under D.C. Scrutiny

Powerful Republican lawmaker has big issues
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The chairman of the Senate Republican High Tech Task force wants the Federal Trade Commission to keep a closer eye on Google's digital ad and search practices.

That is according to a letter from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In their confirmation hearings, Simons and some other commissions said they were open to looking at past decisions on mergers to see how they had panned out, and wants the Google/AdMob merger to be one of them.

In a letter to FTC chair Joe Simons, Hatch laid out the case that is being built against the search giant:

"Google loosened some of those restrictions when faced with antitrust complaints, and the European Commission has said it is monitoring to see if those new restrictions have anticompetitive effects. Then in May, 60 Minutes aired a segment that highlighted several allegations regarding purportedly anticompetitive conduct by the company involving its search practices," he said.

The letter comes as the FTC is launching hearings in early September on how and whether it should update its competition and antitrust enforcement regime in the face of tectonic shifts in tech.

Related: Senate to Vet Competition Enforcement

But Hatch was not done with the litany of alleged offenses. He added that Google has reportedly removed some businesses it does not agree with from its platforms and said he also had concerns about its sharing of actual e-mail content with third-party app developers.

He called all those reports disquieting, and wants the FTC to make some noise about it, at least to the extent of reconsidering the competitive effects of digital advertising and search, procompetitive and anticompetitive.

Hatch conceded that Google has a long record of providing valuable services and innovation, but also says much has changed since the FTC took a deep dive into its ad conduct back in 2010 when it was investigating its purchase of AdMob.

Hatch pointed out that the FTC closed that investigation in 2013 without taking action in part on the assumption that Apple was about to become a strong mobile ad network competitor, which never happened."

Instead, by many measures, Google’s position throughout the ad market, publisher-side ad servers to ad exchanges to advertiser-side ad servers, has become more dominant. And Google accumulates data at essentially every step," he said.

Other developments included an FTC staff report that had recommended antitrust action against Google related to search for possible preference of its own content over rivals, something that the government has recently been emphasizing, including in the AT&T-Time Warner suit--is a big anticompetitive effect.

Hatch's letter also comes days before the Senate Intelligence Committee is holding a hearing with top edge providers about foreign influence on social media platforms. Google has been invited, but was listed as a maybe.

Edge Providers have increasingly been catching flak from both sides of the political spectrumand both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. 

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