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House Google Hearing Confirms Bipartisanship on Internet Platform Issues

Government scrutiny of Internet platform unaccountability is here to stay because it is a strong bipartisan concern and interest.   

Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices” featured Google CEO Sundar Pichai as the lone witness.

The hearing provided a ~30 congressperson data-set and proxy for where Google specifically, and Internet platforms generally, stand politically at this point in the techlash gauntlet.   

Antitrust Pollyannaism: Google Facebook Amazon = New Entrants Not Incumbents

Are Google, Facebook, and Amazon, pro-competitive Internet “new entrants” or anti-competitive enduring monopoly Internet platform incumbents?

Apparently, that critical distinction depends less on evidence, and more on one’s antitrust predilections and prosecutorial presumptions – i.e. does one view the Internet competition glass half-empty (pessimistic) or half-full (optimistic).  

Recent evidence from the Trump DOJ Antitrust Division suggests it’s in the Internet competition optimist camp almost to the point of Internet competition Pollyannaism, despite the evident Internet platform antitrust enforcement drumbeat around the world, in Congress, and the White House, to the contrary over the last 18 months.

Google Facebook Amazon’s Non-Neutral No-Privacy Paid-Prioritization Models

We all have been played.

One of Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s greatest innovations to date may have been deceiving the U.S. government and voters with the narrative that their core Internet business models and practices were only good, innovative, pro-consumer, and worthy of no regulation, when they knew it was untrue, while at the same time lobbying that if an ISP pursued their same Internet business models and practices, that it would be anti-innovation, anti-privacy, and worthy of maximal telephone utility regulation, including a permanent, user-subsidized, price-of-zero for Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s outsized, pure profit,  commercial downstream Internet traffic usage.

Can you say: “winner take all” industrial policy?

Can you say: “regulatory arbitrage” game?

Can you say: “unlevel playing field?”

After this year’s revelations of Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s many bad, unfair, and deceptive practices, it warrants revisiting if their past forceful policy positions that only ISPs are a risk to consumers, privacy, and competition, and only ISPs warrant utility-grade net neutrality, non-discrimination, and maximal privacy regulation, were self-serving, anticompetitive, and deceptive distractions from their own anti-privacy, discriminatory, paid-prioritization practices?

We have all been played like a fiddle.

The Unlevel Playing Field of Asymmetric Competition Expectations

A core question for the FTC to answer in its hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century,” is what are the FTC’s underlying competition expectations?

Why have telecom, cable, and wireless network communications’ convergence with information technology turned out to be pro-competitive, but the Internet platforms’ reverse convergence of information technology with communications networks turned out to be anti-competitive, i.e. naturally winner-take-all?

Asymmetric governmental competitive expectations are why.

Congress’ stated purpose in passing the 1996 Telecommunications Act was “to promote competition and reduce regulation…” [bold added] and Congress’ antitrust savings clause clearly did not change the applicability of antitrust laws to communications networks.

In stark contrast, as an unregulated information service, information technology companies’ networks operated outside of the FCC’s pro-competition mandate, despite the well-known monopolistic behavior of consumer/business software provider Microsoft at that time.

Google Facebook & Amazon’s Anticompetitive Nontransparent Exchange of Ideas

There can’t be a “free exchange of ideas” without transparent competition for the exchange of ideas.

This is a timely point for three reasons.

First, the DOJ announced: “The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies [Google Facebook Twitter] may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms." [Bold added.] This “competition” concern ultimately falls in the lap of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division and State Attorneys General.

Case Study of Google Serial Over-collection of Private Data for FTC Hearings

A Case Study of Alphabet-Google’s 2004-2018 Privacy Track Record of Evident Unfair and Deceptive Over-collection of Consumers’ Personal Data Exposes an Evident Gap in the FTC’s Remedial Authority to Protect Consumers

Submitted as a public comment for the FTC’s fall 2018 “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century Hearings.” Topic #5: “The Commission’s remedial authority to deter unfair and deceptive conduct in privacy and data security matters” FTC Project Number: P181201; (PDF FTC submission here)

July 30, 2018; By Scott Cleland; President, Precursor® LLC  info@precursor.com & Chairman, NetCompetition®

Conclusion

This case study of Alphabet-Google’s track record of unfair and deceptive privacy and data security practices provides a compelling body of evidence of 17 major business practice examples over a fifteen-year period that indicate the FTC evidently does not have enough remedial enforcement authority to deter Google, or other Internet platforms, from engaging in unfair and deceptive conduct in privacy and data security matters.

It is also evident from Google’s words and actions chronicled below that it legally does not believe its users have a “legitimate expectation of privacy” concerning the information they provide to Google.

Google-Android’s Deceptive Antitrust Defenses Presage a US v. Alphabet Suit

The likely probability of an eventual U.S. v. Alphabet Sherman monopolization case improved further now that we know how weak Alphabet-Google’s likely primary U.S. antitrust defense of Android is.

This means not only is a potential U.S. v. Alphabet antitrust case stronger than the seminal successful and upheld U.S. v. Microsoft precedent, but Google’s relative antitrust defense is much weaker too.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s public Android antitrust defense has fatal flaws.

First, Google-Android claims Apple iOS is a direct competitor when factually in an antitrust context it is not.

Why a US v. Google-Android Antitrust Case Is Stronger than US v. Microsoft

SUMMARY

The impending EU-Google-Android abuse of dominance conviction and expected record fine and substantial behavioral prohibitions, begs the question of how U.S. antitrust enforcers will eventually act on the outcome of their own Google-Android investigation?  

The Sea Change Significance of Simons-FTC Privacy and Antitrust Hearings

Much bigger change is afoot at the FTC than many may appreciate. An awakened and reinvigorated Simons-FTC lies ahead as do eventual new FTC calls for 21st century privacy and data protection legislation. Don’t be fooled by the glacial pace of the 2017-18 FTC appointment/confirmation process for a near clean slate of FTC leadership.

We now have strong official directional evidence from FTC Chairman Simons that the next two-and-a-half years are going to be very different from the last five years, 2013-17.

What Happened Since FTC Secretly Shut 2012 Google-Android Antitrust Probe?

If only the 2012 FTC appreciated “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the Simons-FTC would not be left to treat and contain the now evident, out-of-control, Androidopoly epidemic.

Google’s 2012 search-syndication monopoly scale has rapidly metastasized Google’s market power in scope to: Android licensable OS, Google Play app store, Google Location Services, Chrome browser, Google Maps, and YouTube video.

Lax 2013-2017 FTC antitrust enforcement has consequences.

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths