OVERNIGHT TECH: Decision due in Google case

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.), the ranking members of the committee and subcommittee with jurisdiction over antitrust issues, urged the FTC in a letter on Monday not to shirk its duty to protect consumers.

They did not take a position on the Google case, but they said that the claims by some lawmakers that the FTC lacks the power to bring a "pure Section 5" suit against the company are "unfounded."

"Well established legal principles set forth by the Supreme Court provide ample authority for the FTC to address potential competitive concerns in the relevant market, including search," they wrote.

They argued that robust competition for online services "promotes consumer welfare by facilitating the free flow of information, directing consumers to accurate information, and enhancing consumer choice."

But observers doubt that a majority of the five FTC commissioners are prepared to take aggressive action over the search bias complaints.

The FTC could still extract concessions from Google over its syndicated search agreements with other websites, its use of other companies' content in search results and its advertising restrictions.

The commission is also close to completing a separate investigation into whether Google is illegally blocking competitors' access to basic industry technologies. Google is required to license its "standard-essential" patents on a fair and reasonable basis, but it has sued other companies in recent months to block their use of the technologies.

Commerce Committee to vote on FTC, FCC picks:
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote on President Obama's nominees to the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday.

Obama has nominated Democrat Mignon Clyburn for a second term at the FCC and Republican Joshua Wright, an economist and law professor, for a first term at the FTC.

Some committee Democrats, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.), voiced skepticism about Wright at his confirmation hearing earlier this month. They questioned his commitment to aggressively enforcing antitrust and consumer protection laws, and demanded that he reveal more information about companies that have funded his academic work.

But if Democrats try to block Wright, Republicans could retaliate by derailing other nominations.

Panetta to keynote Press Club luncheon: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will give a keynote address at the National Press Club on Tuesday afternoon, where he will describe what lies on the horizon for the U.S. military. The defense chief has talked about the need for cybersecurity legislation and heightened protection against cyberattacks in previous speeches this year.

Reid wants to tackle FISA re-authorization before Christmas:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Monday that the upper chamber needs to finish up its reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week before breaking for the Christmas holiday. He also warned that the Senate may have to return to Washington the day after Christmas to finalize work on a fiscal cliff deal.

Vladeck, Harrington to depart FTC
: David Vladeck, the director of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) consumer protection bureau, is leaving the agency at the end of the month to head back to a faculty position at the Georgetown University Law Center, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said on Monday. During Vladeck's time at the FTC, the agency crafted a comprehensive privacy framework and brought privacy enforcement cases against Google and Facebook. He also created the agency's Mobile Technology Unit, which helped coordinate the agency's mobile enforcement actions, according to the FTC.

Charles Harwood, the deputy director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, will step into Vladeck's role following his departure and serve as acting director of the bureau. Eileen Harrington, the FTC's executive director, will retire at the end of the year, according to Leibowitz. Pat Back, the deputy executive director at the agency, will serve as acting executive director upon Harrington's retirement.

Mark heads to Microsoft: Former Hill and RNCC staffer Rebecca Mark is leaving public affairs firm Glen Echo Group to head to Microsoft's DC office, where she will serve as manager of government affairs. In the new role, Mark will represent Microsoft on the Hill on Internet and tech policy issues, as well as demonstrate the company's latest devices and services.

Census Bureau to conduct surveys online: The U.S. Census Bureau announced on Monday that it will let participants submit online responses to the American Community Survey in a bid to boost participation.

The agency said the move will save money on printing, paper, postage and processing, while maintaining security.

NRA's social media accounts go silent in wake of school shooting: The National Rifle Association has gone silent on its social media accounts in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.

The gun-rights advocacy group appears to have removed its official Facebook page from the social networking website. Attempts to access the NRA's Facebook page were directed to a Wikipedia entry about the lobbying organization. Comments or Web links shared by Facebook friends about the organization are still visible below the lobbying group's Wikipedia entry.

Former head of Energy Dept. research agency heads to Google: The former head of an Energy Department research and development program is heading to Google to lead its energy strategy.

Arun Majumdar will join Google after leaving his most recent post as director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in June.

Outgoing Rep. Lungren hopes to remain engaged in cybersecurity efforts: Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the cybersecurity subpanel on the House Homeland Security Committee, said it's "an absolute necessity" for Congress to move forward on legislation in 2013 that's designed to help the private sector share data about cyber threats with the federal government.

"Look, the facts are the facts and the facts are we have a legitimate, clear and present threat we need to respond to," Lungren told The Hill. "We are not in the best position to respond to it now, and there is a path forward I think and we ought to work on it."

Privacy watchdog group calls on FTC to investigate 'SpongeBob' mobile app: The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) on Monday called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a "SpongeBob SquarePants"-themed mobile app game by Nickelodeon and mobile game developer PlayFirst, claiming that it violates online child privacy rules.

In its complaint filed with the agency, the privacy watchdog group says the "SpongeBob Diner Dash" game asks kids to submit some of their personal information, including their full name and email address, without obtaining parental consent or providing a notice to parents first. CDD charges that this information collection violates the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), even though the app claims that it complies with the privacy law. 

Please send tips and comments to Brendan Sasso, bsasso@thehill.com, and Jennifer Martinez, jmartinez@thehill.com.

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