One of the odder bits of news from last week was California’s decision to not get involved in the antitrust lawsuit against Google. Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Alabama AG Steve Marshall were the only two who abstained from the suit which also includes Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appeared hopeful Becerra would eventually get involved by telling POLITICO he saw California as an important state whose views mattered.
Normally, Becerra’s decision to hold off on pursuing antitrust against Google would get praise from this author. There are plenty of alternatives to Google’s search and email functions including DuckDuckGo, Bing, SwissCows, Protonmail, Outlook, Yandex, and Zoho. It’s not the monopoly as claimed by the 48 attorneys general in their suit.
Becerra’s involvement in the lawsuit would make plenty of sense from his rhetoric and actions. He recently got Teva to pay $69M over the delayed release of a generic sleep drug. He’s still involved in litigation against T-Mobile and Sprint in their merger. Becerra also sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission last year imploring the federal government to make sure competition and consumer protection existed in communications, technology, and digital networks. The missive also included concerns about big data, privacy, and competition, especially by larger firms. “As technology and the economy change, so too should our methods of antitrust enforcement and regulation,” said Becerra at the time. “State Attorneys General are the boots on the ground of antitrust enforcement, and we’re bringing California’s strong track record of innovative consumer protection to the table in these discussions. Together, we can achieve our collective goals to strengthen competition and consumer protection.”
He’s also willing to sue companies based in California. Becerra filed antitrust litigation against Northern California-based Sutter Health last month and in 2018. Becerra is a trustbuster.
Why did he decide to not get involved in the suit against Google? Politics, not some deeply held belief Google isn’t a monopoly. The Sociable reported Becerra received almost $40K from Google’s PAC and individual contributors over the years including $7K in 2018. It isn’t a ton of money but the foul stench of potential cronyism cannot be ignored.
Becerra is under pressure in California to get involved in the antitrust suit. Republican California Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham called the AG’s lack of action an embarrassment to the state because he believes California should be at the table in whatever happens. A Becerra spokesperson told Washington Free Beacon the state is interested in trust-busting but did not want to compromise integrity to their work.
This appears to be a classic case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. There are plenty of concerns about Google’s behavior specifically its now-scuttled programs with the Pentagon and China. The Intercept_ reported in July how Google still does business with local and federal governments in regards to Artificial Intelligence despite claims it lets its “portfolio companies” run business with little to no interference. Google itself is doing work with Egypt despite human rights concerns with its government. The tech giant also does work with New York City, Memphis, and Arizona. Its ability to get subsidies from local and state governments cannot be ignored nor can its data collection. The company deserves plenty of criticism for its business dealings.
However, it isn’t a monopoly. Alternatives exist. It enjoys a large market share but there are other companies with a large market share which are not subject to antitrust legislation. The best way to weaken Google is to not give it regular business. Legislators and City Council members should not give Google special carveouts to help its bottom line.
Becerra’s move to not be involved in the antitrust suit against Google is simply politics and the direct antithesis to his rhetoric and past work as a trustbuster. He is quite simply a hypocrite.