Texas Claims Google Is Withholding Documents


Texas’ Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Google charging the company is holding back crucial documents in its antitrust investigation

Dissatisfied with the pace of its almost 2-year-old antitrust probe into Google’s search results rankings, the state of Texas has filed a lawsuit against the search company to get it to comply with previous document requests.

In a lawsuit filed in Austin this week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott “demanded that the Internet company cooperate with its probe and hand over intentionally withheld documents”, according to a report by the Reuters news service. “The state’s attorney general said Google was holding out despite having handed over hundreds of thousands of documents since August 2010.”

Documents ‘withheld’

The attorney general’s office “suspects that there are many documents being improperly withheld based on assertions of privilege”, Reuters reported. “Google has significantly over-reached in its effort to prevent disclosure of documents.”

In a statement emailed today to eWEEK, a Google spokesman said the company is cooperating with the probe. “We have shared hundreds of thousands of documents with the Texas Attorney General, and we are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business,” the spokesman said in the prepared statement.

The start of the probe was reported by eWEEK in September 2010, when Abbott began looking into complaints that the company stifled websites that competed with its search engine.

Google Deputy General Counsel Don Harrison confirmed the investigation at that time in a blog post. “The cases cover those brought by shopping comparison websites Foundem and myTriggers, and search directory SourceTools, all three of whom have ties to Microsoft,” eWEEK reported. “Rankings, or where websites are placed in Google’s search results pages, can make or break companies that live online because Google commands roughly 65 percent of the search market.”

The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, is also conducting its own antitrust investigation of Google. “The FTC is investigating whether Google abused its dominant position in the search engine space – it currently holds about 66 percent of the market, followed by Microsoft’s Bing – to unfairly promote its own products over those of its rivals in search results. Google has come under similar scrutiny from regulators in Europe, where the European Commission has been conducting its own investigation and reportedly will make a decision within the next few weeks whether to pursue legal action.”

The commission opened its investigation of Google last year.

Search concerns

Google, as its influence in the tech space has grown, has come under increasingly intense scrutiny from regulators, rivals and civil liberties advocates over issues of everything from business practices to privacy.

The most recent concerns centre on the company’s “Search, plus your world” social-search feature, which pulls in posts and pictures from users’ Google+ accounts into search results, and makes Google+ contacts and relevant Google+ pages more readily searchable.

The FTC in January decided to bring the new social-search feature into the antitrust investigation, saying the concern was that it was another way Google could inject bias into search results.

Also in January, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) filed a related complaint with the FTC, asking the agency to look into changes that Google made to its search algorithm. EPIC’s complaint alleged that Google’s “Search, plus your world” service infringes on user privacy and antitrust regulations.

“EPIC cited Google’s decision to include personal data, such as photos, posts and contact details, gathered from Google+ in Google Search results,” EPIC reported on its website in January. “Google’s business practices raise concerns related to both competition and the implementation of the Commission’s consent order,” EPIC said, referring to a settlement that the FTC reached with Google that establishes new privacy safeguards for users of Google products and services and subjects the company to regular privacy audits.

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