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Google Antitrust Investigations: FTC, EU, state attorneys general… More to come?

The ABA Journal reported this week that Google was subpoenaed by the Missouri attorney general (Josh Hawley) for antitrust and consumer protection violations. Google has been placed on notice and the investigation is ongoing. Earlier this year, the Mississippi attorney general sued Google for similar violations and the European Union fined the company $2.7 billion for consumer protection violations. Are you seeing a pattern? Antitrust litigation against Google seems to be full speed ahead.

According to the article, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) completed an investigation against Google in 2013. The FTC concluded, “We have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties.” Evidently, Mr. Hawley does not agree with the FTC finding so he decided to investigate on his own.

When investigating and prosecuting cases involving sophisticated technology and antitrust issues, attorneys depend on experts to perform complex investigations and unravel complex issues. Who will the attorneys general and defense counsel turn to in support of these involved matters? Let’s take a look at the issues:

Antitrust / Consumer Protection:

To understand more about the laws governing antitrust issues in the US please visit the FTC for a brief summary.

Essentially, United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state laws regulating the conduct and organization of businesses, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers.  As the FTC page indicates, there are three main laws covering antitrust behavior: the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. For more than 100 years, “The antitrust laws have had the same basic objective: to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.” The laws also basically prevent collusion or cartel-like practices and monopolies.

The Missouri attorney general has said, “There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind.” It appears the Mr. Hawley believes Google is doing things which are not promoting, and possibly impeding, fair competition. Further, their algorithms may be directing users to Google-owned properties rather than websites offering services which compete with those Google-owned properties. As Google is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to Internet searching, any tactics directing users to their own goods or services could be considered a restraint of trade.

In order to prove Google manipulates algorithms for their own benefit, the Missouri attorney general is probably going to have to employ some expert consultants who may later testify as expert witnesses. Google’s defense counsel will probably have to do the same. I assume Google will have many of the pre-litigation consultants in-house.

During the investigation, Mr. Hawley will likely need to consult with antitrust and antitrust economics experts to determine if actions by Google are negatively impacting consumers or restraining trade. Furthermore, he may need to employ consultants to conduct market research to have statistical evidence of the impact on consumers.

Algorithms:

Most of us (is this too presumptive?) have some sort of rough idea about search algorithms and what they accomplish. We understand it to be a mathematical equation used to search data and deliver a result based on the search terms we utilized.

After reading my last paragraph, I have to say there are probably far more accurate and simplistic descriptions of an algorithm. I may not have properly described how they work. That’s because I’m not a computer scientist. Luckily, neither the prosecution nor defense will be calling Nick Rishwain as an expert witness in Missouri v. Google.

The legal representatives from both sides are going to need assistance in understanding search algorithms and how algorithms might be manipulated by Google. They are going to need to know this quite early in the case in order to request and deliver the proper documentation during the investigation and discovery stages should Missouri file a lawsuit.

Both sides will likely need the assistance of information and Internet technology consultants. More specifically, I can see the need for information science & architecture experts as well as search engine optimization experts.

As the ABA Journal article made abundantly clear: Google has faced many legal actions related to antitrust and it appears even more legal actions lie ahead. It should be noted that Google is not alone in this area. There appears to be increased chatter about antitrust actions against Amazon as well. If the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission avoid taking action, we may see more attorneys general choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute the corporate giants for dominating the market.

For more information, check out the Experts.com Antitrust Articles section.

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Computer Safety and Security Articles

CYBER ABUSE, CYBER CRIME

By: Richard Albee
DataChasers, Inc.

Tel: 877-DataExam (877-328-2392)
Website: www.DATACHASERS.COM

The Internet is a vast universe of discovery, with items of interest for everyone–regardless of your particular curiosity. Unfortunately, this availability often leads to abuse, and sometimes to crime. But, not unlike adolescent discovery, the steps to cybercrime are achieved in stages.

The first stage is availability

Without access to the Internet the potential for abuse becomes a moot point. It was common, several years ago, to simply advise employers against allowing employees access to the Internet; this is no longer practical. Internet access is an integral part of many businesses, and certainly a part of everyday life…
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DataChasers, Inc., is a select, exclusive computer forensics and e-discovery company. Our examiners find the evidence, interpret it, evaluate its importance, and articulate those facts to a jury. Computer forensics and e-discovery is our only business, and we welcome your inquiries about the process, or our procedures.

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CSI COMPUTER FORENSICS – Real Cases From Burgess Forensics #9 – The Case of the Teacher and the Trickster

By: Steven G. Burgess
Tel: (866) 345-3345

Website: www.BurgessForensics.com

The stories are true; the names and places have been changed to protect the potentially guilty.

It was a grey October day, the kind of day when a guy likes to cozy up next to a bank of servers to keep warm, when the Teacher first called me. “They think I’m nuts” were the words emanating from the phone. Well, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I sat up and went to my desk, away from the noisy fans cooling off all those Gigahertzes. “What’s the problem, Miss?”

The young woman explained that she was a not-yet-tenured teacher in a New England (greyer there than here) high school with a problem. Seems that a student in one of her classes was repeating things in the classroom that she had uttered only the night before in the apparently illusory privacy of her own living room…
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Steve Burgess is a freelance technology writer, a practicing computer forensics specialist as the principal of Burgess Forensics, and a contributor to the just released Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases, 5th Edition by Moenssens, et al.

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