FTC Hires Beth Wilkinson in Google Investigation


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For the first time in five years of litigation, the Federal Trade Commission has hired outside legal counsel to head up its antitrust investigation against Google, which denotes the seriousness of its inquiry. The FTC has long been looking into Google's business practices on a broad level, encompassing aspects of its search engine and how it relates to preferential advertising, various issues with how it conducts licensing of its Android OS and a wealth other nitpickeries. And, the FTC means business - they've hired the prosecutor who successfully argued the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz says the agency tapped Beth Wilkinson, who will begin working on the Google investigation on Monday - though made it clear that no charges are yet being filed against the search giant - Wilkinson has been brought on merely as a new set of eyes while checking out Google's search dominance and the effect it has on competitors. Still, some think that the new hire is indicative of the FTC actually going after Google, like they did with Microsoft when that company got too big for its britches in the 90's. Samuel Miller, an antitrust attorney brought on by the FTC in the Microsoft investigation in 1993 states,"The antitrust authorities don't bring in outside counsel unless they are very serious about bringing a case." It would appear that things are going to become a bit tense in Mountain View.

Wilkinson, an Army veteran and former assistant U.S. attorney, states, "I have done a lot of public service in my life, and this gave me an opportunity to do something significant and challenging and important, while maintaining my private practice." Wilkinson, who is based in Washington D.C., is a partner in the New York City-based law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and would seek to lead the trial team if the Google case goes to court.

Google has yet to comment, and Google Fellow Amit Singhal had previously stated in a blog post, "We respect the FTC's process and will be working with them (as we have with other agencies) over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services. It's still unclear exactly what the FTC's concerns are, but we're clear about where we stand. Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow." Time will tell if the investigation progresses to charges - though it would appear that this is likely, with Leibowitz recently calling Google's new privacy policy "brutal."