SEATTLE – Google fired the opening ointment in what is expected to be a protracted four-dozen antitrust battle and requires more protection before it leaves confidential business documents sought by investigators.
In a petition filed Thursday in Texas state court in Travis County, Google, along with parent company Alphabet, sought a protective order against Ken Paxton, the Texas state attorney who heads the multistate antitrust investigation in the company.
The petition stated that Paxton had not provided sufficient guarantees as to how his office shares Google's sensitive business documents with external investigators for the investigation. Google said some of the outside consultants also worked for competitors or complainants.
That's the first legal challenge Google has faced since attorneys from 48 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico said in September that they launched an antitrust investigation into Google's market power and corporate behavior, with Mr Paxton taking the lead.
On the day it announced the investigation, Mr. Paxton's office served Google a civil investigation request, searching for what the company called "very proprietary, competitive and otherwise confidential business information," including internal planning notes, strategic documents and white papers. Google has until November 9 to begin producing documents related to the office 233 requests.
"Given the breadth of confidential business information sought by the OAG," Google wrote, citing the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, "and it increased the risk of leaks and disclosures to Google's competitors and complainants in this and other regulations case law, a protection order is appropriate and necessary. "
Google's petition is largely a procedural move, but it provides insight into who is assisting the attorney and what Google is concerned about when it enters into what can be a lengthy legal process In addition to state inquiries, House and Senate committees, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have also investigated the company's business practices.
In a statement, the Texas Attorney General said it was taken aback by Google's request "to challenge our right to hire many of the most knowledgeable in this complex field. ”It said it had worked with Google to discuss "appropriate confidentiality provisions" to ensure that the information will not be used by its competitors, but what Google wanted would compromise the investigation.
"Google's petition is nothing more than an attempt to prevent the investigation. But Google has no right to choose the expert or run the state investigation," Marc Rylander communications director for Mr. Paxton said in a statement.
Google said it wanted to be notified in advance before the Attorney General's Office shared its confidential company information with third parties as consultants, seeking restrictions on the ability of external consultants to access these documents from working with Google's Competitors.
Google also requested a "cooling off" period to prevent consultants from jumping into another job of advising competitors based on what it learned during the survey.
Google pointed to the background to two of the three consultants for the investigation as particularly worrying, one having served as a consultant to companies that have been highly- n criticism of Google, including News Corp. and the Russian search engine Yandex. The other, a former Microsoft lawyer, had also represented clients in other antitrust and other cases against Google.
"This is an exceptionally irregular arrangement, and it is only reasonable to have assurances that our confidential business information will not be shared with competitors or vocal complainers," said Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman.
It is not uncommon for government investigations to coordinate antitrust arguments with competitors of the company it is investigating. This also happened in the monopoly case against Microsoft in the 1990s.
"This looks like a sideshow," said David Segal, CEO of Demand Progress, an activist group focused on issues of corporate power and Internet freedom. "These are standard delay and deflection tactics that one of the most powerful companies in world history is trying to avoid scrutiny."