According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Google has been sued by the Texas Attorney General’s office. The Texas Attorney General is currently investigating Google’s alleged anti-competitive behavior and potential abuse of power. That investigation is essentially parallel to what’s going on at the Federal Trade Commission.
The suit, filed Monday in Texas state court, doesn’t claim Google is engaging in anti-competitive activity. Rather the lawsuit is seeking to compel Google to turn over documents relevant to the investigation.
Google has declined to hand over the disputed documents because of what’s known as “attorney-client privilege.” That doctrine shields communications, verbally, in writing or in some other form, from discovery by an opponent or another third party. It’s a long and well established rule in civil and criminal law.
The WSJ report says there are over 14,000 documents at issue. The Texas Attorney General’s office argues Google has not met the requisite burden, showing these documents are protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. Google told the WSJ that the company has “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.”
FairSearch.org, a consortium of aligned, anti-Google companies, issued the following statement attributed to Patrick Lynch, the former Attorney General of Rhode Island:
Google has once again thumbed its nose at the Attorneys General and law enforcement agencies around the world who are seeking information to shed light on serious and credible allegations that Google is illegally abusing its monopoly power in ways that deprive consumers of choice, harm innovators, and raises the cost for all organizations who use the Internet to reach new customers.
Texas and other governments investigating Google are now experiencing what millions of businesses and other organizations face every day with Google: an unaccountable black box that believes it above the law.
If Google has nothing to hide, co-founder and CEO Larry Page will instruct his company to comply with formal requests for information about its business practices. Those policies are now under review by Attorneys General in Texas and five other states, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and European Commission, and other jurisdictions internationally.
Unfortunately, Google’s inaction in Texas mirrors its delay and obstruction of the FCC’s investigation of the Google Street View mapping project, its non-compliance with a civil subpoena from U.S. Senator Blumenthal when he was the Connecticut AG, the Korean competition authorities who sought information from the company, and many other governments and law enforcement agencies.
‘Trust us’ never has been a valid answer to legal requests for information. It’s past time for Google to cooperate with investigations around the world. If the company is not willing to play ball, attorneys general and others will have to force Google to change its practices.
Separately Google is under a deadline to respond to the European Commission’s request for an antitrust settlement proposal by July 2, 2012. It’s not immediately clear what will happen if the company misses the deadline or offers settlement terms that are unacceptable to the Commission.