India’s antitrust regulator has launched a probe against Google Inc over alleged anti-competitive practices by the U.S. Internet search giant, following a complaint by a consumer advocacy group, a federal minister said on Monday.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has received information about contravention of an Indian competition rule by Google, R.P.N. Singh, minister of state for corporate affairs, told lawmakers in a written reply to a question, according to a government statement.
Google has already been subjected to antitrust probes in the United States and Europe.
The Monster of Mountain View has historically been dealt with very leniently by the United States federal government. European regulators have taken a much harder line with the company, especially when user privacy has been threatened. Google has also reportedly caught the attention of authorities in Argentina and Korea.
Since its launch more than a decade ago, Google has morphed into a very successful commercial version of the National Security Agency (NSA). The only reason it is viewed more favorably than the NSA is because it has a more benevolent (though undeserved) reputation. It’s time for people to realize that trusting Google with the details of their lives is a bad idea.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced today that the Monster of Mountain View has agreed to pay a fine for violating the terms of its earlier privacy accord with the agency from two years ago. Google is not admitting to any wrongdoing:
The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million on Thursday to settle charges that it had bypassed privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to be able to track users of the browser and show them advertisements, and violated an earlier privacy settlement with the agency.
The fine is the largest civil penalty ever levied by the commission, which has been cracking down on tech companies for privacy violations and is also investigating Google for antitrust violations.
Consumer Watchdog criticized the settlement agreement, calling on the FTC to hold Google accountable for its war on privacy.
“While the $22.5 million penalty levied against Google is a record for the FTC, it is woefully insufficient considering that Google refused to admit any liability or wrongdoing,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “The Commission has allowed Google to buy its way out of trouble for an amount that probably is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong.”
One of the Commission’s five members agreed. In a statement explaining why he refused to sign off on the settlement, Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch said the FTC should have demanded – and gotten – more.
[T]his is not the first time the Commission has charged Google with engaging in deceptive conduct. This is Google’s second bite at the apple. The Commission accuses it of violating the Google Buzz consent order by “misrepresent[ing] the extent to which users may exercise control over the collection or use of covered information” and accordingly, seeks civil penalties for those violations. In other words, the Commission charges Google with contempt.
This scenario – violation of a consent order – makes the Commission’s acceptance of Google’s denial of liability all the more inexplicable.
We agree. A $22.5 million fine is nothing to Google. It is hardly going to dissuade the Monster of Mountain View from continuing to wage war on users’ privacy. The FTC should have at least gotten an admission of wrongdoing out of this settlement. They folded too easily.
The Federal Communications Commission isn’t getting answers from Google (surprise, surprise!) in response to an inquiry launched as a response to the “Wi-Spy” scandal, so the agency has just hit the Monster of Mountain View with a fine.
It’s tantamount to a slap on the wrist, but at least it’s something.
Google Inc. (GOOG) “impeded” and “delayed” a U.S. inquiry into its data collection, according to the latest in a series of regulatory probes of the company’s privacy practices.
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking a $25,000 fine after examining how Google gathered personal e-mails, text messages and other materials through its Street View location service, the agency said in an April 13 filing. That is the maximum penalty for failure to cooperate with an investigation, Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an interview yesterday.
If only the FCC could tack on more zeros to the amount of the fine… maybe then Google would start to take the agency’s investigation seriously.
It looks like Google critic David Brandt was right about Google being in bed with rogue online pharmacies. Here’s the Department of Justice:
Online search engine Google Inc. has agreed to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements through its AdWords program targeting consumers in the United States, resulting in the unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the United States, announced Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole; Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island; and Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA/OCI). The forfeiture, one of the largest ever in the United States, represents the gross revenue received by Google as a result of Canadian pharmacies advertising through Google’s AdWords program, plus gross revenue made by Canadian pharmacies from their sales to U.S. consumers.
As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to an admission of wrongdoing.
It looks like justice has been served. This is a pretty steep fine. Obviously, DoJ investigators were able to find strong evidence that Google was flagrantly breaking the law, or Google wouldn’t have settled the charges. The cost of the settlement has already decreased Google’s quarterly profit by 22%, after the company set aside the money it anticipated having to pay the feds.
“This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian on-line pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Neronha. “It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior. It is about holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500 million forfeiture, the kind of forfeiture that will not only get Google’s attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America’s pill problem.”
LGB applauds the United States government for holding Google accountable in this case. Perhaps this investigation will cause the Monster of Mountain View to think twice before breaking the law in the future.
Google issued a short, meek statement on the settlement and then refused to comment further. The statement read:
We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago… However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place. Given the extensive coverage this settlement has already received, we won’t be commenting further.
It actually took Google years to get around to banning rogue online pharmacy ads. Google’s competitors took such actions back in 2003, but Google did not follow suit. Instead, it behaved unethically and illegally. Now it will pay the price.
Since April when Bloomberg News reported that the Federal Trade Commission was contemplating a full-blown antitrust investigation of Google, people who follow the Internet giant have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It did on Thursday with the report in the Wall Street Journal that the five-member Commission is about to serve Google with civil subpoenas — known as Civil Investigative Demands — about its business practices.
The European Union and the State of Texas are already investigating, but word of the FTC probe raises the issue to a new level of intensity. It also makes it clear that millions of dollars spent on lobbying and the hobnobbing by Google executives at White House State Dinners will not prevent a long needed investigation.
This investigation should have been launched years ago. The FTC has been missing in action for some time, but better late than never. There are, of course, tech pundits out there mocking this announcement, suggesting that Google won’t be nearly as powerful as it is now by the time this investigation has been completed. Many have cited Microsoft as an example.
But part of the reason Microsoft’s influence diminished is precisely because of the antitrust probe and subsequent antitrust lawsuit. The very existence of this probe should serve as a check on Google’s power, and that is a very good thing.
Consumer Watchdog is asking the White House to keep its distance and not meddle with the investigation and other existing (but smaller) probes of Google’s business practices that are already going on.
Following a class-action suit brought by two Tampa men targeting Apple over alleged user tracking, Google is facing a similar class action lawsuit filed in Detroit on Wednesday.
The plaintiffs in the Detroit suit evidently have a case of buyer’s remorse.
Last week developers also revealed that Android devices keep a similar cache of cell tower and WiFi data, though Android limits the amount of data to 50 recently accessed cell towers and 200 recently accessed WiFi networks. Like iOS devices, a person would need to “root” (similar to “jailbreaking”) an Android device to get the data, but in contrast to iPhones this data isn’t synced to a computer.
More disconcerting, however, is the fact that Android devices collect “its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour,” according to research by security expert Samy Kamkar. Google said it uses this data for a variety of uses, but unlike Apple, Android attaches a unique ID number to the data. While that ID number is effectively random and can’t be directly linked to a particular device or user, it is possible to analyze such data and correlate it to particular individuals using increasingly advanced “deanonymization” techniques.
Variety of uses, ha. That’s basically Google’s polite way of saying, we’re invading your privacy to monetize you because that’s the business model we think will make us billions.
Google is correct in one sense: People who are using Android are effectively “opting in” to Google’s surveillance regime. But the thing is, Google is not being upfront with people who are purchasing Android phones about the existence of the regime. Furthermore, what goes on inside of Google’s datacenters is a secret, so it’s hard to expose what Google is really up to.
Google claims to love open source. The reality is, Google only loves open source to the extent it can subjugate free software to expand its empire. Android and Chromium are just means to an end – the end being the ability to track millions of people.
Google does have several initiatives aimed at supporting open source projects, like Google Summer of Code. But Google’s business practices and policies are anything but open source. Google is a proprietary software company just like Apple or Microsoft.
The only difference is that Google is much, much better at being disarming towards people who support free software. (Microsoft has noticed this; it’s starting to copy Google’s tactics).
Just like Google Chrome, Android phones are loaded with proprietary spyware that phones home to Big Brother. Big surprise? Not to LGB, but not everyone scrutinizes Google as we do. Not everyone has the healthy skepticism that they should.
As of today, two concerned women from Detroit have joined the ranks of the skeptics. Good for them.
The initial pleadings are available from Archive.org in PDF format: Brown et al v. Google, Case #2:11-cv-11867.
The Monster of Mountain View’s monopolistic practices are finally drawing a response:
The top European antitrust regulator opened an investigation into Google on Tuesday to examine allegations that the Internet giant has abused its dominance in online search.
The decision follows complaints by specialized search-related companies about “unfavorable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The commission said it was also looking into whether Google might have given its own services “preferential placement” in search results. In addition to its search engine, Google has a growing number of other online businesses, including mapping, translation, video and electronic commerce services, many of which, like the search engine, are supported by advertising.
Google’s tendency to give its own services preferential placement in search results appears to be an internal policy. It’s already been well-documented by critics. From Google’s perspective, cross promotion makes a world of sense. The growth of Google’s spyware-laden browser, Chrome, has been mostly driven by Google’s own Internet properties, including YouTube and Blogger, where users are encouraged daily to try Chrome. Most people who download Chrome have absolutely no idea what the implications are for their privacy and security.
Aggressive cross-promotion is also what got Microsoft in trouble years and years ago. Microsoft used its Windows operating system to destroy the market for Netscape Navigator, by giving Internet Explorer away for free and then bundling it into Windows as the default browser. Microsoft managed to survive its own antitrust investigation, but the legal battle and other circumstances took a toll on Microsoft’s stock, which is still limping along nearly a decade later.