The Texas attorney general has accused Google of withholding evidence to stifle the investigation into whether the search giant has been abusing its dominance of the web search market. Six US states including Texas are examining the possibility that Google manipulates its search engine’s influential results to the detriment of its competitors, in order to drive up online advertising prices.
The allegations that Google is withholding evidence are rooted in the fact that Google has refused to hand over more than 14,500 documents that were formally demanded by Texas attorney general Greg Abbott in July 2010 and May 2011. It is believed that he reams of internal emails and other records could illuminate the company’s strategy and provide an insight into the mindset of its top executives.
On Monday, Abbott filed a petition in a Texas state court seeking an order that would require Google to hand over more of the requested material.
For its own part, Google feels that is acting within the law: “We have shared hundreds of thousands of documents with the Texas attorney general, and we are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business,” Google said.
That actual dispute is dependent upon whether the documents in question are communications between Google’s lawyers and the company’s employees – which would make them legally protected. Abbott argues that Google is trying to conceal documents that don’t come under the shield known as attorney-client privilege, and would like a Travis County court judge in Texas to review a sample of the documents Google is trying to protect to see if they fall within this remit.
Lawyers on Abbott’s staff have said “…the attorney general’s office believes a… review of these examples will likely demonstrate that Google has significantly overreached in its effort to prevent disclosure of documents.” In the meantime, Google has asked Abbott’s investigators to return or delete 12 documents that were previously handed over in accordance with the petition.
In April Google were fined $25,000 by the US Federal Communications Commission after it was judged that the company deliberately impeded the investigation into its harvesting of Wi-Fi data while working on its StreetView project.