Google Accused Of Hiding Evidence In Web Search Probe
Online search giant Google has been accused, by the Attorney General of Texas, of improperly withholding evidence while the company is being investigated for abusing its dominance of web search. The allegations surfaced this week as part of Texas’ probe into Google’s business practices, now in its second year.
Texas and several other states are examining whether Google stifles competition and drives up online advertising prices by manipulating its search results, reports The Guardian’s Charles Arthur. Federal Trade Commission (FCC) and European regulators are conducting their own investigations into the same issues.
Google has dragged its heels after being asked, repeatedly, for over 14,000 documents covered in formal demands issued by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott between July 2010 and May 2011. Abbott is seeking an order that would require the company to surrender reams of internal e-mails and other records that could illuminate the company’s strategy and provide insights into the mindset of its top executives.
The Wall Street Journal broke the details of the court filings only a few hours before a Google shareholders’ meeting Thursday at its headquarters in California. Legal battles with government regulators and authorities across the globe is one of the reasons given for an extended lag in Google stock since co-founder Larry Page became CEO more than 14 months ago.
Page himself was noticeably absent from the annual meeting because he has lost his voice to an undisclosed illness, executive chairman Eric Schmidt explained at the event. Page was also expected to be absent at an upcoming Android developer conference.
This isn’t the first time a government agency has lashed out at Google for perceived stonewalling reports. Earlier this year, the FCC fined Google $25,000 after concluding the company deliberated impeded an investigation into a Google project that scooped up e-mails, passwords and other personal information transmitted over unsecured wireless networks in homes located around the world.
Google denied it did anything wrong, although it wound up paying the fine. In a statement, Google attempted to cast itself as a good corporate citizen by reemphasizing its “Don’t Be Evil” motto.
“We have shared hundreds of thousands of documents with the Texas Attorney General, and we are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business,” Google replied in a statement.
Abbott contends Google is concealing documents that don’t fall under the shield known as attorney-client privilege, which covers conversations between a lawyer and a client. The Texas attorney general reached that conclusion after reviewing Google’s justification for withholding the requested documents.
In many instances, Google is asserting the attorney-client privilege on communications between non-lawyers, according to Abbott’s petition. The disputed records reflect but don’t contain advice directly from a lawyer, according to the petition.
Meanwhile, Google lawyers are asking Abbott’s investigators to return or delete 12 documents that the company had previously turned over, according to the petition. Abbott wants a judge to look over those records to determine if they fall under attorney-client privilege.