May 2, 2012
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has hired a former Department of Justice prosecutor to help with the FTC’s Google antitrust investigation. The probe revolves around the issue whether Google Inc. violated antitrust laws. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz clarified that the agency has not yet decided to sue Google, and hiring the prosecutor does not signify the FTC’s decision to file a lawsuit against the search engine. Analysts interpret the FTC’s decision as a sign that the agency is preparing for a possible court battle.
Leibowitz stated that the FTC sought outside counsel because the case would not only affect Google’s future growth plans but also affect how consumers use the Internet and how companies compete in the Web. Google is accused of tilting search results in favor of its own web products to the detriment of its competitors. Fairsearch.org, a group representing Microsoft, Expedia Inc., and other Google critics, accuses Google of engaging in anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers’ interests by keeping other companies from offering their best products and services to Internet users.
This is not the first antitrust investigation against Google, but the past probes focused on the search engine’s mergers and acquisitions. The current probe is the most serious threat in its history because it will scrutinize basic issues pertaining to search advertising, its core business and main moneymaker.
The FTC identified the litigator as Beth A. Wilkinson. Wilkinson is currently a partner at international law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison. Her most prominent case with the Department of Justice was the Oklahoma City bombing trial where she served as a counsel to the Deputy Attorney General. She is credited with securing the guilty verdicts that led to the death sentence for Timothy McVeigh and life sentence for Terry Nichols. She also served as an assistant to the general counsel of the US Army’s Intelligence and Special Operations.
Wilkinson’s private practice involves representing Pfizer, Philip Morris, and Maximus. She will start working for the FTC in early May. Her possible duties will be overseeing the investigation, mentoring FTC employees involved in the Google investigation, recommending if a lawsuit should be filed, and leading any litigation efforts if the investigation ends in a lawsuit.