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New Evidence Increases Google's Antitrust & Privacy Risk

New "smoking gun" incriminating and damaging evidence from court documents in the Skyhook vs. Google court case, likely increases Google's antitrust and privacy risk on multiple fronts. (For background on the Skyhook case see here, here.)

A must-read piece by Mike Swift of The Mercury News, details how, in May 2010 just after the WiSpy scandal broke, Google's Larry Page (who is now CEO), had an email exchange with senior executives that made clear how strategically important building a WiFi location database was to Google's Android and mobile strategy.

 

  • This new "smoking gun" evidence has very broad and serious implications for many different antitrust and privacy investigations into Google because it shows Google's senior leadership were fully aware of what the company was trying to accomplish in its WiFi location database efforts, and more importantly, it confirms Google's strong business motive and intent to more aggressively to dominate WiFi location services.

 

Implications of the new evidence:

Antitrust:

First, the damning revelation in Google's emails that Larry Page was involved in Google deciding to force Motorola to break its established contract with Skyhook in order to keep Google's business, could be "smoking gun" evidence of motive and intent that Google was anti-competitively crushing a competitor to try and extend their search engine monopoly into the emerging market of location based ad-services.

 

  • This new evidence reinforces my prior prediction that Skyhook's unfair trade practices case against Google was very strong and that Skyhook could eventually become Google's Netscape.

 

Second, this smoking gun evidence of anti-competitive intent in the mobile ad market via location services only increases interest by the FTC to launch a broad investigation into Google.

 

  • Remember the FTC had just cleared the hotly-contested Google-AdMob transaction on 5-21-10 despite "serious antitrust concerns" eight days prior to the "smoking gun" emails  of 5-29-10 showing Google leadership's anti-competitive intent in mobile ad services via Skyhook.
  • This is on top of the embarrassing fact that Google now has 97% of mobile paid search market despite the FTC's conclusion in clearing Google-AdMob that AdMob would not facilitate or cement Google extension of its PC-based search advertising monopoly into mobile.

 

Privacy:

Third, Google's new "smoking gun" evidence adds a lot of fuel to the fire of interest in the latest WiSpy II revelations that Google is tracking WiFi users movements roughly 1,000 times a day not always with their users' permission or knowledge.

 

  • The evidence opens up a whole new line of inquiry and concern to be covered in the Senate Privacy hearing May 10th into Google and Apple's WiFi locational practices and phone tracking.

 

Fourth, this is also relevant to the FTC privacy enforcement case against Google because it suggests that Google has been engaged in more deceptive and unfair privacy practices involving phone tracking and WiSpy collection of WiFi signals without users' meaningful permission or knowledge.

 

  • It also puts a new spotlight on why the FTC dropped its WiSpy investigation based on Google's now suspect representations of what it was doing with its WiSpy effort.
  • It is now obvious that senior management were more aware of what Google's Street View vehicles were doing that they were letting on publicly, and that Google's explanations that only one Google engineer was involved, were false and likely deceptive public representations to the public.

 

Fifth, the new "smoking gun" revelations also have implications for the FCC's investigation into Google WiSpy I as potentially being illegal wiretapping of tens of millions of Americans households.

 

  • At a minimum, now that the "smoking gun" evidence shows that Google and its senior leadership were very focused on perfecting its WiFi location database, it looks increasingly implausible that Google's leadership did not know how much private data the Google Street View vehicles were collecting when senior leadership was obviously acutely aware of how important the Street View WiFi signal collection was to Google's top priority move into mobile services.
  • Adding knowledge and intent to the equation, could make it harder for the FCC Enforcement Bureau to accept Google's assertions that 3 years of collecting WiFi signals with hundreds of vehicles was just the "mistake" of one Google engineer, and not part of Google's overall Android/mobile strategy.

 

Conclusion:

This new "smoking gun" revelation of Google senior leadership knowledge and intent creates a potential PR pickle for media-shy CEO Larry Page.

  • Clearly this only adds to the questions that the media and investors would like to ask Mr. Page if only he would give them an audience.
  • The fact that the Google witness at the May 10th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will likely have to testify under oath, also complicates the PR damage control this new evidence causes for Google and its new CEO.
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