Nov 1, 2019

Google fights to limit sharing of information in antitrust probe

Google turned to a Texas court for help Thursday, fearing that a multistate antitrust probe could allow its rivals to gain access to sensitive information.

Driving the news: Google sought a protective order to limit the sharing of its confidential information in the states' antitrust investigation.

Details: The company told the court that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the states’ investigation, has refused to agree to give Google notice before it shares documents with third parties or consultants, and won’t prohibit its consultants from working for Google competitors now or in the next year.

  • The consultants in contention are Cristina Caffara, an economist with Charles River Associates, and Eugene Burrus, a former Microsoft lawyer.
  • Google said Caffara has worked for its “adversaries on antitrust and competition matters” including News Corp and Microsoft, and also notes that her contract with the Texas AG’s office indicates she’s not charging for her advice.
  • Burrus worked as Microsoft’s assistant general counsel and has represented clients in cases against Google while in private practice, Google said.

What they're saying: Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda noted the company has provided "millions of pages" of documents in regulatory inquiries and is committed to cooperating with the states' probe.

  • “But this is an extraordinarily irregular arrangement and it’s only fair to have assurances that our confidential business information won’t be shared with competitors or vocal complainants," Castaneda said in a statement.
  • Marc Rylander, communications director for the Texas AG, said the office offered several proposals to protect Google's information, but in the midst of the negotiations, Google went to court to challenge "our right to employ many of the most knowledgeable in this complex field."
  • "We are not willing to compromise our ability to discharge our obligation to conduct a thorough investigation of Google’s conduct," Rylander said in a statement. "The protective order requested by Google would do just that. Google’s petition is nothing more than an effort to hamstring the investigation. But Google is not entitled to choose the states' expert or run the states' investigation.”

The big picture: Antitrust investigators rely on information from both the targets and their rivals to build cases, but Google doesn’t want its competitors to gain an edge through sensitive material it's forced to hand over.

Go deeper: The full list of antitrust investigations into Big Tech

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States to expand Google probe

Photo: Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

The multi-state antitrust probe into Google will expand beyond the advertising business to search and Android, CNBC reports.

Why it matters: Google is already facing investigations into potentially monopolistic behavior on many fronts, and the expansion of the states' probe will further widen the scrutiny.

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Google fires 4 as internal tensions mount

Google's logo on an escalator on Sept. 11. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Google confirmed Monday that it has fired four workers for violating company policies on data access. Google had earlier put two of the employees on leave over the issue.

Why it matters: It's the latest salvo in an increasingly fierce battle between the company and employee activists.

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Feds probe Google and Ascension over patient data sharing

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The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday it is investigating the data-sharing relationship between Google and not-for-profit hospital system Ascension.

Why it matters: Per Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman, exchanging patients’ health information is legal under federal privacy law, and this data sharing is common, even when patients aren’t aware. The government is making sure Google is contracted as a "'business associate" with Ascension.

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