• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Privacy Shorts

Google watchers have had a lot to look at lately.

March 30, 2015

Google watchers have had a lot to look at lately.

First, the Wall Street Journal reported that Federal Trade Commission staff in 2012 issued a report that found “Google Inc. used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and competitors.” To quote the report, according to the WSJ, Google’s “conduct has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.” The Commissioners, under the previous commissioner, Jon Leibowitz, nonetheless voted not to investigate, at least as a result of a countervailing report from the economics bureau that advocated against an investigation.  This report includes any number of specific issues:  taking content from other sites to augment their own; “placing restrictions on websites that syndicate its search results from also working with rivals,” and “by restricting advertisers’ ability to use data garnered from Google ad campaigns in advertising run on rival platforms.”

The timing of this information is likely of particular interest to the European Commission as it continues its investigation into Google’s practices in the search market. This decision involves a number of legal issues that revolve around anti-trust actions.  With an even greater market share in Europe for search than in the U.S., Google has the E.U.’s attention.  The E.U. also has a lower threshold for anti-trust than the U.S. does.  Having already been sanctioned in parts of Europe for its privacy violations, it may be instructive for the more market-friendly United States to take notice of this decision.

Finally, all eyes are on the Polis/Messer bill to see the substance and issues that are (or are not) addressed. Parents, privacy advocates, and education stakeholders alike are paying close attention in the wake of concerns such as Google’s announcement last year that it had been scanning student emails for advertising purposes. Still, the language previewed thus far is focused squarely on software and services marketed to schools, as opposed to consumer devices used in schools, such as Chromebooks. How these consumer device privacy policies are being kept in check to prevent profiling of students remains unknown. For now, we continue to wait and see…


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