Lee Calls for Antitrust Oversight Hearings on Google

Mar 11, 2011

Washington, DC - Senator Michael S. Lee (R-UT) today called for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee to conduct an oversight hearing on Google Inc. Lee joins Chairman Herb Kohl in encouraging hearings on the business practices of the dominant search firm. Lee is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.

In a letter to Kohl, Lee noted that those who follow the tech industry, as well as those responsible for enforcing antitrust laws, have concerns that Google could be acting to harm competition.

“The powerful position Google occupies in the general search arena creates myriad opportunities for anticompetitive behavior,” Lee writes. “The Deputy Director for Antitrust within the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, Howard Shelanski, recently observed that a ‘hypothetical search engine’ with various ‘scale and network economies’ might become a ‘must have’ for consumers and thereby more effectively engage in ‘anticompetitive discrimination.’”

Given its prominent position in the search and search-advertising markets, Google in some ways acts as a gatekeeper over a variety of Internet businesses.

In particular, Lee’s letter points to Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA software, which could potentially provide Google with the ability to control the travel search vertical market, currently populated by sites like Kayak, Travelocity, and Orbitz.

“Google’s position as the preeminent search engine may be abused so as to disadvantage competing vertical search sites to the detriment of advertisers and internet users,” Lee writes.

Lee adds that Google’s acquisition of personal data through searches and its many products, such as Gmail, Google Checkout, Google Books, and Google Web History, couldpresent serious privacy issues.

“Google’s powerful position as an Internet gatekeeper reduces the company’s incentive to compete with other search engines by providing enhanced privacy protection for consumers.”

“The combination of behavioral and personal information enables Google to generate consumer data that is unprecedented in scale and scope. These activities raise serious privacy concerns and may be indicative of an important market that is largely unconstrained by competition. Antitrust enforcement may unlock beneficial competition for the protection of user privacy and avert the need for additional privacy regulation.”

Utah has a growing tech sector with several large companies set to expand their businesses in the state, and was awarded Forbes “Best State for Businesses” in 2010.

“As an increasing number of companies with an online presence expand and create jobs, we want to make to maintain and competitive and business-friendly environment,” Lee said.

The full text of Senator Lee’s letter to Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl is included below:

 

March 10, 2011

 

The Honorable Herb Kohl
Chairman
Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

 

Dear Chairman Kohl:

 

I write to express my strong concerns relating to Google Inc.’s possible abuse of its predominant position in the general internet search arena and the need for vigorous antitrust oversight and enforcement in this area. As the new ranking member of the Antitrust Subcommittee, I look forward to working with you to hold a hearing on this important issue. I recognize and applaud your efforts in this area of vital importance.

The proper functioning of our nation’s free-enterprise system is critical during the current economic downturn. Enforcement of the antitrust laws is especially important for sectors in which the United States has been a leader, such as the e-commerce and online advertising industries. Antitrust enforcement is far preferable to the creation of inefficient government regulation and bureaucracy that could hamper innovation in these crucial industries. Internet search is of particular concern to me because Utah – recently labeled by Newsweek as the “new economic Zion” due to its growing number of high tech businesses – has a significant interest in preserving open competition in this importantarea of our economy.

Many commentators, as well as those responsible for enforcing antitrust laws, have voiced serious questions concerning whether Google has acted to harm competition. Given its prominent position in the search and search advertising markets, Google in some ways acts as a gatekeeper over a variety of internet businesses. Among other things, commentators have expressed concern that Google may be using its position to harm specialized (or so-called “vertical”) search sites. If allowed to compete free of restraints, vertical search sites – such as travel, mapping, and shopping sites – could attract users and advertisers from Google’s search platforms. Some vertical search sites have accused Google of using its power to deprive those websites of internet traffic by biasing the display of its search-advertising and search results.

Likewise, some claim that Google may disadvantage rivals in subtle, potentially undetectable, ways. Indeed, Google’s founders recognized as early as 1998 that “a search engine could add a small factor to search results from ‘friendly’ companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors” and that “[t]his type of bias is very difficult to detect but could still have a significant effect on the market.”[1] Whether this type of behavior is occurring is a question of great practical significance. The powerful position Google occupies in the general search arena creates myriad opportunities for anticompetitive behavior. The Deputy Director for Antitrust within the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, Howard Shelanski, recently observed that a “hypothetical search engine” with various “scale and network economies” might become a “must have” for consumers and thereby more effectively engage in “anticompetitive discrimination.” According to Shelanski, “once one realizes there could be an application . . . that is more essential to consumers than any particular downstream network, then the locus of possible bottleneck discrimination . . . shifts upstream.”[2]

The DOJ has extensively analyzed bias in the display of airfares to travel agents on airline-owned computerized reservation systems (“CRSs”) and concluded that “[p]erhaps the most effective and insidious method by which an airline can use a CRS with market power to punish other carriers for competing with it is secretly to bias the system in favor of the host carrier.” The DOJ went on to point out that “[b]ias influences, and may mislead, the travel agent who uses CRS in such a way as to cause airline ticket revenues to shift from competing carriers to the host.”[3] In a similar way, Google’s position as the preeminent search engine may be abused so as to disadvantage competing horizontal and vertical search sites to the detriment of advertisers and internet users. As you know, the DOJ is in the process of determining whether to approve Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA Software – a deal that could potentially provide Google with the ability to control the travel search vertical market.

In addition to its consideration of the contemplated ITA acquisition, I believe the DOJ should also investigate whether Google’s powerful position as an internet gatekeeper reduces the company’s incentive to compete with other search engines by providing enhanced privacy protection for consumers. Google collects an unequaled amount of information about consumers through its search platform, including data about web searches, reactions to online advertising, and precise geographic location for both mobile devices and personal computers. Google also gathers an enormous amount of consumer information through its related products and services, including Gmail, Google Checkout, Google Books, and Google Web History. Google has admitted that for nearly three years it used its Street View mapping service – without notice or consent – to access unprotected Wi-Fi networks and amass extensive information about theinternet activities of American consumers in all 50 states. The combination of behavioral and personal information enables Google to generate consumer data that is unprecedented in scale and scope. These activities raise serious privacy concerns and may be indicative of an important market that is largely unconstrained by competition. Antitrust enforcement may unlock beneficial competition for the protection of user privacy and avert the need for additional privacy regulation.

Oversight by our Subcommittee is essential in helping free markets flourish in this important area of our economy. Ensuring robust competition will benefit consumers, spur innovation, and lead to job creation in our nation’s high-tech internet economy. Utah, ranked by Forbes magazine as the “Best State for Business” in 2010, will likewise benefit from the preservation of competition in this area. Vigorous antitrust enforcement is almost always preferable to a system of government regulations, which will inevitably be more costly and less efficient than a free market unencumbered by anticompetitive restrictions.

I very much appreciate your efforts in this regard and look forward to our work together.

Sincerely,

Michael S. Lee
Ranking Member
Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee

We The Interns clip 1 - Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul Discuss Constitutionality of Obamacare

Mar 10, 2011

On March 9, 2011 Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee hosted an event at the Capitol for Capitol Hill interns. Interns were given 30 minutes to ask questions. In this clip the senators discuss the constitutionality of Obamacare.

Lee Opposes Status Quo on Deficit and Debt

Mar 9, 2011

WASHINGTON – After voting against both the Democrat and GOP spending bills, Senator Mike Lee of Utah released the following statement:

“The fight over cutting $10 billion or $60 billion is not a serious discussion about how to fix what’s broken,” said Lee. “It does not begin to address our massive $1.65 trillion deficit, and completely ignores any long-term structural restraints necessary to impede Congress’s insatiable appetite to spend. If you think of our annual deficit as a football field, the Democrat proposal moves the ball just over half a yard toward the goal line. The Republican proposal moves it just three and a half yards. That is not a winning strategy for the country.

“As long as these spending proposals maintain the status quo on our deficit and debt without instituting some measure of external structural control, I will oppose them.”

Senator Lee has proposed a Balanced Budget Amendment that would act as a strict structural restraint on spending and force Congress to prioritize its constitutional obligations. During an interview this week, Senator Lee reiterated his willingness to filibuster any effort to increase the national debt, without first voting on a Balanced Budget Amendment.

“I will resist any effort to raise the national debt ceiling, and that will include utilizing the filibuster rules,” Lee said. See the full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZxFSwgNp-0

Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul on Glenn Beck

Mar 7, 2011

Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul discuss balancing the budget, oil prices, cutting spending, and Libya with Judge Napolitano on the Glenn Beck Program

Senator Mike Lee Discusses Federal Spending and Gas Prices on Freedom Watch

Mar 7, 2011

Senator Mike Lee explains how high gas prices are a result of the Obama administration's suicidal restrictions on domestic oil production.

Fox News Interview with Uma Pemmeraju

Mar 5, 2011

The voters in 2010 wanted more than $4 billion in cuts.

Why we need a balanced-budget amendment

Mar 4, 2011

As originally published by the Washington Post

Amending the Constitution is not easy, nor should it be. That the Constitution has been amended just 27 times demonstrates that the process is reserved for only the most important circumstances. Our nation's critical need to balance the federal budget rises to that level.

Any effort to amend the Constitution will start in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So far, five other Republican members of the committee, on which I serve, have introduced or co-sponsored a balanced-budget amendment.

This week, 58 senators - including all 47 Republicans, 10 Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent - recognized this urgent need and expressed support for a balanced-budget requirement. I have put forward a proposal that would require a balanced budget every fiscal year; limit federal spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product; and require a two-thirds vote in Congress to increase taxes, raise the debt limit or run a specific deficit.

A similar measure in the House has more than 120 co-sponsors.

This is a vital issue and one on which I am committed to lead the effort in the Senate.

The vast majority of states have constitutional or statutory mandates to balance their budgets each fiscal period. Even during this tough economic climate, most states have been able to prioritize their obligations and make tough choices. The federal government should be expected to do the same.

First, a balanced-budget requirement will ensure we do not continue to drive our country further into debt by trying to do all things for all people. There are some programs we simply cannot afford, but deficit spending makes it too easy not to say no.

When Republicans and Democrats are forced to spend only what we take in, Congress will not be able to sidestep tough decisions about our national priorities.

Second, balancing our budget today will avoid even tougher choices tomorrow. Proponents of investments in areas such as education, infrastructure and energy should welcome a balanced-budget amendment because it will help make money available in the future for these priorities. Under the president's recent budget proposal, which runs a deficit every year, payments on the national debt will quadruple over the next decade, crowding out important resources.

Delaying the inevitable only increases the severity of the cuts to important programs.

Finally, a structural budget restraint is necessary to overcome Congress's insatiable appetite to spend. Both parties deserve blame for irresponsible spending. A balanced-budget amendment is the only way to ensure that Congress acts in the best interest of the country, regardless of who is in power.

Critics worry that an amendment that requires a two-thirds vote to circumvent under any circumstance may prove problematic in the case of an emergency. But history shows that in real emergencies, it is not difficult for Congress to produce a supermajority.

Three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the House passed an emergency supplemental spending bill, 422 to 0. The Senate passed it 96 to 0.

In contrast, Americans were told that President Obama's stimulus bill was a necessary response to an economic emergency. After passing on pure party-line votes in the House (246 to 183) and Senate (60 to 38), the bill failed to create the kind of job growth the president promised. The stimulus would not have passed had it been held to the standards of our proposal, which required a two-thirds vote, and that would have saved taxpayers nearly $1 trillion.

I am ready and willing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see that a balanced-budget amendment clears the Judiciary Committee and receives a full vote on the floor of the Senate. My proposal is strict, enforceable and holds the federal government to a necessarily higher standard.

Other senators have good ideas, and I am open to considering and incorporating additional proposals as long as a meaningful balanced-budget amendment remains in effect.

The federal government has run out of excuses. I agree with the president that the federal government can and should live within its means. A balanced-budget amendment will turn that rhetoric into a reality.

The writer is a Republican senator from Utah.

Senator Mike Lee discusses his vote against budget continuing resolution with Neil Cavuto

Mar 3, 2011

The continuing resolution continues to fully fund billions upon billions of dollars of wasteful government spending.

Senator Mike Lee Discusses Vote Against Continuing Resolution with Gerri Willis

Mar 3, 2011

We continue to trim the bushes while the house is on fire.

Senator Mike Lee Questions Ken Salazar in a Natural Resources Committee Hearing

Mar 2, 2011

Senator Lee questions Ken Salazar about the authority of the Dept. of Interior to designate wild lands.