Google urges confidentiality protections in Texas-led antitrust probe

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of Google is seen at VivaTech fair in Paris© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of Google is seen at VivaTech fair in Paris

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Google on Thursday petitioned a Texas judge to ensure that the state-led probe into possible antitrust violations by the Internet search and advertising company will not compromise its confidential business information.

The request by Google and its parent Alphabet Inc (O:) came after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the probe by 48 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, hired two consultants who have worked for Google rivals or critics.

Google wants an order preventing the consultants Cristina Caffarra, an economist who has worked for Microsoft Corp (O:) and News Corp (O:), and Eugene Burrus, a former Microsoft lawyer, from disclosing sensitive information or working for rivals until one year after their consultancies end.

“Given the breadth of confidential information sought by (Paxton’s office) and the heightened risks of leaks and disclosure to Google’s competitors and complainants in this and other regulatory proceedings, a protective order is appropriate and necessary,” Google said.

A spokesman for Paxton said the attorney general had made a number of proposals to ensure that sensitive Google information would be used only in the probe, which was announced in September, and not by rivals.

“Google’s petition is nothing more than an effort to hamstring the investigation,” the spokesman, Marc Rylander, said in a statement. “But Google is not entitled to choose the states’ expert or run the states’ investigation.”

Technology-related companies such as Google, Inc (O:), Apple Inc (O:) and Facebook Inc (O:) have faced growing antitrust concerns from regulators and lawmakers.

The industry has been scrutinized over such issues as their growing or dominant market shares, their ability to protect users’ privacy, and whether they are spreading misinformation or favoring certain viewpoints over others.

In a petition filed with a Travis County, Texas state court, Google said Paxton has refused to accept “necessary limitations” on the use of its confidential information, such as forbidding the consultants from working for rivals during the probe.

Caffarra, a competition expert at Charles River Associates, was described as a “public critic” of Google who has challenged the company’s business practices before the European Union, and in Russia on behalf of Yandex (O:), a rival in that country.

The petition also said Burrus, an adviser to McKinsey & Co, claimed to have “developed” a case that led to a $2.7 billion EU fine for Google in June 2017.

Google did not name Caffarra, Burrus or the third consultant, Notre Dame law professor Roger Alford, as respondents in its petition.

It said the protective order should also cover Alford, should others hire him for future legal work against Google.

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