President Obama recently criticized the European Union for pursuing an antitrust case against Google over plans to establish a European Digital Single Market, and for its trade positions in the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else,” Obama told Re/Code. “[European] service providers who, you know, can’t compete with ours, are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.”
According to the president, “oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests.”
“[M]y relationship with Silicon Valley and the tech community has historically been really good. Many of these folks are my friends, and have been supporters, and we interact all the time.”
Consider the facts about how exceptionally integrated Google has become with the U.S. government on most all of the commercial matters critical to Google’s business success.
Megan Smith has served as U.S. chief technology officer and assistant to the president since September. Smith served as a senior Google executive from 2003-2014.
Alexander Macgillvray has served as deputy U.S. chief technology officer for intellectual property & privacy since September. Macgillvray served as Google’s deputy general counsel for intellectual property from 2003-2009.
Mikey Dickerson has served as deputy U.S. chief information officer and administrator of the U.S. digital service since August. Dickerson served as a Google Senior Engineer from 2006-2013.
Michelle Lee has served as the head of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office since November of 2012. Lee served as Google’s deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy from 2003-2012.
Renata Hesse has served as deputy assistant attorney general for criminal and civil operations of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice since May of 2012. Hesse served as an outside counsel to Google during the DOJ’s opposition to the proposed Google-Yahoo ad agreement.
David Gelfand has served as deputy assistant attorney general for litigation of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice since August of 2012. In that capacity Gelfand also has served as the DOJ’s antitrust litigation liaison to the European Commission’s Directorate of Competition. Gelfand represented Google in the Federal Trade Commission’s 2010 antitrust review of the Google-Admob transaction.
Joshua Wright has served as one of five U.S. Federal Trade Commission Commissioners since January of 2013. Wright did antitrust-related academic consulting work for Google and formally recused himself from all Google matters before the FTC until January of this year.
Seven former employees and consultants to Google, all conveniently and simultaneously positioned perfectly as potential “Google guardians,” and eyes and ears in every single major federal policy or law enforcement area of interest to Google.
This creates at least an appearance of a conflict of interest problem that Google enjoys partial and extraordinary special treatment within the United States government at the highest level.
This exceptionally tight U.S. government-Google relationship is highly relevant to the European Commission’s current antitrust investigation of Google, and to the EC’s plans to update its data protection, copyright and tax laws as part of the creation of a European Digital Single Market.
That’s because Google’s competition, privacy, copyright and tax policy positions are antithetical to the EC’s.
Given that the U.S. government has apparently embraced Google as America’s de facto national champion worthy of economic protection in the U.S. and abroad, the U.S. sadly has lost any potential moral, political, or rhetorical high ground here, because it has adopted a hypocritical “do as we say, not as we do” stance when it comes to protectionism.
The Obama administration’s apparent mountain-view, seven-sided, Google glass house makes it particularly perilous for the U.S. to throw “protectionist” stones at the EC’s sovereign decision making.
Scott Cleland is President of Precursor LLC, a consultancy serving Fortune 500 clients, some of which are Google competitors. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.