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FTC Extracts Fine From Google As Harassment Continues
The extraction comes in the form of a settlement. No judge or jury has determined, and Google denies, that Google intentionally misled users into giving it information they were trying to withhold, as the FTC claims. Not only that, but Google is not even accused, it seems, of violating a statute prohibiting defrauding Internet users out of their personal information. The charge is that Google violated an earlier consent decree. In essence, Google is charged with contempt of the FTC—as one of the commissioners, a man who thinks the FTC is being too lenient with Google, complains in his dissent from the settlement.
If only! The problem Google faces is that it isn’t safe for Google to treat its government harassers with contempt. Indeed, it’s been suggested that one reason Google is threatened by government is because it hasn’t been paying enough court to Washington. Google is threatened, not just with small (in the context of its revenues) fines, but with potentially serious interference with its business—not over privacy, but over its “monopoly” on searching the Internet. Never mind that there are other search engines, that anyone who wishes is free to create a new search engine, and that we Google users are free to switch search engines literally with every search: officials in the United States and in Europe are threatening and harassing it under the antitrust laws.
If Google indeed tricked users into giving it their information, that was wrong. But let it be proved in court, under a statute or a clear principle of common law. Even that may be unncessary, given Google's incentives to keep its customers satisfied. The bigger problem is the bureaucrats who see a business such as Google—a business whose value is reaffirmed every instant by our free choices to deal with it—as a target, not only for its alleged wrongs, but for its well-known achievements.