The Texas Attorney General has been investigating whether Google places its own products over competitors in violation of anti-trust rules. The Texas AG had not filed suit yet and technically still has not filed an anti-trust suit. Instead, we learned this week that the Texas Attorney General sued to force Google to turn over documents related to the probe. Google claims the documents should not be turned over because of the attorney-client privilege.
Spinsters will claim Google must have something to hide if it refuses to provide documents behind the shield of the attorney-client privilege. It is the same argument taking place on the national stage with Attorney General Eric Holder, Congress and President Obama.
This won’t be a rant or tome on the attorney-client privilege. But, sometimes you do withhold documents, even harmless ones, on the mere principal of preserving the privilege. The attorney–client privilege is one of the oldest recognized privileges and is the only way clients and lawyers can have candid discussions about legal issues. If everyone simply provided harmless privileged documents because they had nothing to hide, then there would be more logic to cast serious doubt when the privilege was actually invoked. More details of the suit and a copy of the actual lawsuit can be found here from All Things D.
More important is the underlying anti-trust claim. Basically, the Texas Attorney General wants to know if Google gives preference to its own products, like Google Places, over a competitor’s, like Yelp. Given the market strength of Google, it could create problems.
I know that if I started an online legal referral service that was highly ranked organically, I would be upset if Google started a paid online referal source called Google Lawyers and suddenly my site disappeared from the first page.
There is certainly enough smoke. As explained in this Search Engine Land post, Google is under simlar heat from European officials, private litigants and other government investigators. The link provide more details and analysis on the anti-trust claims.
The Texas AG’s suit is grabbing a lot of headlines right now. Unfortunately, it will take some time to sort this out and there will be no ruling on Google’s business practices. Instead, the result will be whether the documents have to be turned over. I don’t envy the judge who is supposed to sift through 14,000 documents to make a decision on each one. Of course, if the Texas AG wins, we may know more on the answer to the bigger question. Does Google do evil?