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FTC Leadership Change Coming. Should Google Be Worried?

google-logoIt was announced late yesterday that the current head of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is stepping down in the middle of February.

Adweek reports

Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz will step down from the agency in mid-February after eight years in the position.

Many in Washington anticipated his move, announced late Thursday in a number of leading national newspapers, since last year.

But first, Leibowitz had a few things on his “to do” list that he wanted to finish, including closing the agency’s two-year antitrust investigation into Google and passing updated rules to the children’s privacy laws. On Friday, the FTC is expected to release a staff report on mobile privacy and related enforcement action.

Google Won and Microsoft Is Not Happy. Oh Well.

Google WinsGoogle got a big win yesterday when the FTC gave them what amounted to the equivalent of saying that they MIGHT slap them on the wrist regarding Google’s business practices. Google and antitrust, as far as the federal government is concerned for now, is a non-issue.

As Cynthia Boris reported yesterday, both sides can, and did, come away from this claiming a victory. That’s to be expected. Google really did win and the government has to say it won.

On the other hand, this is likely to not be the end of attacks on Google’s business practices. Here is a post on the ‘Microsoft on the Issues‘ blog by Dave Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft, who is one of the major players in the Fair Search initiative.

Both Sides Claim a Victory in the FTC Case Against Google

googleThe 19-month, FTC investigation into Google’s policies and practices has come to an end and both parties are declaring themselves the winner.

Here’s the announcement from the Official Google Blog:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.

Here’s the FTC’s version:

Google Inc. has agreed to change some of its business practices to resolve Federal Trade Commission concerns that those practices could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices . . . as well as the market for online search advertising.

Congress Gives Netflix the Go Ahead to Share Video Viewing Information

bork videosIn 1988, Congress enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act after a newspaper printed the video rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. It could have been quite embarrassing and scandalous but lucky for Bork he was more into Hitchcock thrillers and James Bond than blue movies and graphic violence.

After this horrendous invasion of privacy, someone penned a law and pushed it through Congress to stop video companies from sharing this kind of information in the future. At the time, they didn’t know about Netflix, online streaming, or Facebook.

Netflix has been lobbying to have the law changed and this week they won the war. Congress passed an amendment that will allow video viewers to opt-in to total social sharing. Which means, sometime in 2013, Netflix will begin adding your viewing history to your Facebook newsfeed, with your permission.

Yelp Reviewers Sued for Writing Bad Reviews? Say it Isn’t So!

People love to stand behind the concept of Free Speech but even that doesn’t give you the right to slander another person, spout lies or yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Unfortunately, the line that divides protected opinion from legal liability is blurry and hard to see.

The Washington Post just posted a story about a woman in Virginia who is being sued by her contractor because she gave him a bad review on Yelp. Actually, bad isn’t a strong enough word. She said he damaged her home, charged her for work he didn’t do and then stole jewelry from her home. If she’d stopped after the first two remarks, she might have been alright, but now she’s fighting a $750,000 defamation of character law suit.

Google and FTC Heading for a Showdown?

According to a report from Bloomberg the FTC has issued Google an ultimatum about practices that the agency has been investigating for quite some time. Now that the election is passed I guess it’s a good time to go after them, huh?

The gist of this can be seen in this quote from Bloomberg

Google being pressed by U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz to offer to resolve the agency’s antitrust probe in the next few days or face a lawsuit, two people familiar with the matter said.

Google has been in discussions with the agency for about two weeks and hasn’t put any remedy proposals on the table, said the people, who declined to be identified because the negotiations are private.

Google and EU Prepare for Next Battle

It looks as if the ongoing battle between the European Union (EU) and Google is about to jump back into the center ring of the three ring circus that is the show that these two put on from time to time around privacy.

The Guardian reports

Google will be told on Tuesday to unravel the controversial changes introduced in March to its European privacy policy, legal sources have told the Guardian.

The French data protection commissioner, the CNIL, will be holding a press conference on Tuesday to announce the results of its deliberations together with the data protection chiefs of the other European Union countries.

As exclusively revealed by the Guardian last week, they have determined that Google’s changes breached EU law because they did not give users any chance to opt out of the changes.