Google seeks assurances Texas won't leak confidential information in probe

Google seeks assurances Texas won't leak confidential information in probe
© Getty Images

Google filed a petition in a Texas court on Thursday seeking assurances that consultants working on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's (R) multi-state investigation into the company will not leak any confidential information to Google's rivals.

In a petition filed with the state District Court of Travis County, Google raised concerns over two consultants in particular, both of whom have worked for Google rivals or critics. The tech giant and its parent company, Alphabet, asked the Texas judge to place safeguards around what those consultants can share as the antitrust investigation moves forward.

Google asked the judge to impose an order limiting how much sensitive business information the two consultants can obtain and preventing them from working with Google competitors during or after the investigation.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The OAG [Office of Attorney General] has retained three outside consultants, including two who work for competitors and complainants, to work on the current investigation," Google said in the petition. "Notably, one of these consultants has been engaged by a company active in efforts to generate regulatory action against Google."

One of the consultants, Cristina Caffarra, has previously represented Google rivals News Corp and Microsoft as well as Yandex, a Russian search engine that has filed antitrust complaints against Google. She heads competition work at consulting firm Charles River Associates. 

"Armed with Google’s confidential information obtained through this investigation, this consultant could act as an expert for the OAG while simultaneously assisting a competitor or complainant, and marketing themselves as someone with access to Google’s confidential information," the petition continued. 

Another consultant, Eugene Burrus, has participated in several investigations and actions against Google. Most prominently, he was the assistant general counsel at Microsoft for 15 years.

In the petition, Google claimed that Paxton's office declined to agree to a similar protective order, which would have prevented the consultants from sharing confidential business information with rivals and barred them from working for competitors while consulting on the investigation. 

Last month, the Texas attorney general's office — which is leading the multi-state investigation into whether Facebook unfairly wields its market dominance in search and advertising to crush competitors — requested a broad swath of documents to assist its recently-launched probe.

The documents asked for "highly proprietary, competitively sensitive, and otherwise confidential" information, according to Google's petition.

Google wants those documents to be subject to a protective order. 

"We’ve provided millions of pages of documents in response to regulatory inquiries, and we’re committed to cooperating," Google said in a statement. "But this is an extraordinarily irregular arrangement and it’s only fair to have assurances that our confidential business information won’t be shared with competitors or vocal complainants.”

Marc Rylander, the Texas attorney general's director of ocmmunications, in a statement to The Hill said Google made the court filing "without any notice." 

"We have had good-faith negotiations with Google to conduct a comprehensive, but fair, investigation," Rylander said. "We have made a number of proposals that would protect Google’s sensitive business information from disclosure, and ensure it will only be used for the government’s case, not by Google’s competitors." 

Paxton's office is arguing that Google's petition would "compromise our ability to ... conduct a thorough investigation of Google's conduct" with "many of the most knowledgeable in this complex field."

Updated at 10:31 a.m.