In a November 2007 speech at the headquarters of Google, Barack Obama said he wanted to empower innovative, entrepreneurial geeks so “the next Google has a shot.” A few months into Obama’s presidency, Christine Varney, the top antitrust enforcer at the Justice Department, has made it clear that she shares the boss’s interest in Google. Only her approach may be less than benign.
In a May speech at the Center for American Progress, Varney declared that “vigorous antitrust enforcement must play a significant role in the government’s response to economic downturn.” Since then, she has opened an investigation into Google’s 2008 settlement with authors and publishers over potential copyright violations by the company’s book scanning project. Given Google’s already significant lead in the book digitization race, the Justice Department worries that the settlement, which insulates Google from further copyright lawsuits, would make Google unbeatable in the digital book market. In June, Varney’s office began making formal requests for information about the deal.
Google’s dominance in search and online advertising, coupled with its aggressive moves into other product areas, may have drawn Varney’s ire as well. In a June 2008 speech, she compared the search giant to previously trust-busted Microsoft, saying: “I think we’re going to continually see a problem, potentially, with Google. Companies will begin to allege that Google is discriminating, not allowing products to interoperate with other products.”