Texas Officials, Public Interest Lawyers Push For More Disclosures From Google
The effort to get Google to disclose more information about how it ranks sites and the details of its algorithm is nothing new. However that information, among other things, is now being sought by the Texas Attorney General’s office in conjunction with a broad antitrust investigation against Mountain View.
According to Bloomberg:
Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott’s office has requested an array of information from Google Inc., including the firm’s formula for setting advertising rates, according to a demand for documents by state antitrust officials. The antitrust investigators also are seeking Google documents that show “manual overriding or altering of” search result rankings, according to Texas’s civil investigative demand. The order is similar to a subpoena, compelling a company to turn over documents and make executives available for interviews.
The Texas investigation was initiated in the third quarter of last year and plays off some of the claims and allegations that caused the European Commission to launch their investigation against the company:
According to Google, the Texas Attorney General’s office is seeking more information about allegations that have been levied against Google by:
One might wonder why Texas would be involved in an antitrust investigation against Google. However in 1998 about 20 state attorneys general, together with the US Justice Department, sued Microsoft for antitrust violations. In fact state attorneys general are often involved in matters of “national” interest. Not to get too cynical here but part of all this is “law enforcement” and part of it is politics.
In this instance Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott is an elected official who may harbor further political ambitions. Being “first out of the gate” in a potential high-profile case like this against a major internet company and global brand, which some political conservatives and paranoid TV commentators see as too aligned with the Obama administration, brings national visibility and PR benefits that are already starting to accrue.
In an unrelated case that shares the theme of “disclosure” or “transparency,” Google is reportedly trying to block an effort to unseal court filings in a long-standing trademark action between the company and language software provider Rosetta Stone. Many of the documents were originally redacted by agreement of the parties.
Several independent attorneys and consumer advocacy group Public Citizen have intervened in the case to get he records unsealed. They argue that court filings are documents of public record and should be made available accordingly, absent some compelling reason otherwise (e.g., national security). Law Professor Eric Goldman is one of the intervenors trying to get the documents unsealed.
He points in his tweet to an effort by Google to argue against the unsealing of the documents. Google’s move to prevent the disclosure of the court records has led some people to ask “What are they hiding?”
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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