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Does anti-trust nominee Varney have Google in her sights?

By Carol Eisenberg

February 20, 2009 at 10:24am

New legal challenges for search giant Google Inc. may be looming - and from chief executive Eric Schmidt’s new BFF Barack Obama, of all people.

Christine A. Varney, nominated by Obama to be the U.S.’s next antitrust chief, has described Google Inc. as a monopolist that will dominate online computing services the way Microsoft Corp. ruled software, reports Bloomberg News.

“For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem,” Varney said at a June 19 panel discussion sponsored by the American Antitrust Institute, according to Bloomberg. The U.S. economy will “continually see a problem - potentially with Google” because it already “has acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising,” she said.

Varney made the remarks months before Obama nominated her to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division, of course, but they may signal her approach if she is confirmed by the Senate. That day at least, she advocated aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws to curb the conduct of individual companies that dominate an industry.

As a partner at law firm Hogan & Hartson the last few years, Varney is certainly well-schooled in the issues, having headed the firm’s Internet practice group where she lobbied on behalf of the Online Privacy Alliance among other clients. But this week, the former federal trade commissioner and assistant to the president to Bill Clinton did not respond to calls from news organizations to elaborate her position.

The fact that Schmidt has been an outspoken supporter of Obama’s certainly complicates things for her.

As we have reported before, Schmidt not only backed Obama, but he joined him on the campaign trail, while his employees turned out to be among Obama’s most generous contributors.

After the campaign, Schmidt and Google.org global development director Sonal Shah both served on the Obama-Biden transition team.

Moreover, the Mountainview, CA company has been steadily building a presence in the nation’s capitol. Today, its senior Washington advisers include Vice President Al Gore, former Clinton foreign policy aide Robert Boorstin, and Alan Davidson, who had served for eight years as associate director of the Centre for Democracy and Technology, a think tank that opposes government and industry control of the web.

This will be an interesting dance to watch.

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