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FTC Taps Top Litigator to Handle Investigation Competition Issues

D.C. lawyer Beth Wilkinson has been pressed into service by the Federal Trade Commission to handle the competition issues related to the Federal Trade Commission's investigation into Google's prominence in search and advertising, an FTC source confirms.

Wilkinson is a partner in the litigation division of Paul Weiss. According to her bio on the law firm's website, she is a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York and helped secure the conviction and death sentence for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The FTC confirmed in June 2011 that it was investigating the company, but would not say why. Google later confirmed on its policy blog that the FTC had begun a "review of its business," though it said it was unclear as to just why. But in an SEC filing, Google said it had been subpoenaed and the issues were its search and advertising businesses.

During a hearing last fall on just how much power Google did wield online, Senate Judiciary Committee's Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said the issue was whether Google was biasing its search results or simply presenting them in the best way to get consumers from its site to their Web destination, and whether there was an inherent conflict now that Google had gone on a buying binge and morphed from a search company to an Internet conglomerate.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt at the time argued that the company was making it easier for users to move to a competitor, like Bing, but various legislators pointed out that Google has 65-70% of computer search, 75% share of advertising and somewhere between 95% and 97% of the search market on mobile devices, where many in government assume online search is migrating.

That, suggested Kohl, fits the antitrust law definition of a monopolist with special obligations. Schmidt said Google understood its obligations, had thought about what it should do when it got "big enough to be evil," and had taken steps to address that. He said he understood the company was "in the area" of legal definitions of monopoly, but suggested that was an issue for a court.

It is also, apparently, an issue for the FTC, whose investigation continues.