According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal today and a parallel Bloomberg report Google faces an increasingly likely antitrust complaint unless the company steps up and offers some concessions (or additional concessions) in settlement discussions with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
According to Bloomberg, US FTC Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz is “pressing” Google to settle potential antitrust claims “in the next few days or face a formal complaint.” This is according to “people familiar with the situation.”
The phrase “people familiar with the situation” suggests FTC employees who want to put more public pressure on Google to settle. As with previous press reports regarding an impending or increasingly likely antitrust complaint against Google, some of this is “negotiating in public.”
As Bloomberg points out the FTC completed its year-long investigation into Google recently and was delaying its decision about filing a complaint until after the election. Now that the election is over it’s “put up or shut up” time. The contention is that four of the five FTC commissioners are in favor of an antitrust action against Google.
There are many people, and some on both sides of the aisle in government, who feel Google is a monopolist and harming internet competition. However, proving antitrust violations in litigation would be more challenging than simply citing comScore data. There are some very specific legal requirements that must be met. It’s far from clear that the government would succeed at trial.
However the FTC may ultimately be compelled to file a complaint to add further pressure to force Google to settle. This latest report perhaps reflects FTC Chairman Leibowitz’s effort to avoid litigation but still be able to claim victory.
Across the pond, European antitrust settlement discussions with Google appear to have quieted down, with no news for the past several weeks. This follows a period intensifying activity and public statements from European regulators.
It’s unlikely, though now possible, that Google would be litigating separate antitrust cases on two continents simultaneously.