There are dark clouds on the horizon for Google as the Federal Trade Commission prepares to examine the search giant's "powerful and lucrative technology" as the New York Times describes it.
"The case has the potential to be the biggest showdown between regulators and Silicon Valley since the government took on Microsoft 14 years ago.," says the paper .
No formal decision had been made about bringing a formal antitrust case against Google.
But the hiring of ace litigator Beth Wilkinson, who played a lead role in the conviction of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, is certainly being seen as significant. Only twice in the past 10 years has the FTC hired outside legal counsel.
David Wales, a former FTC official now in private practice, said , “It’s a watershed moment when you hire someone like this. This shows Google that if it doesn’t give you the remedy you want, you’re going to litigate.”
A Washington Post report said the move "signalled the agency is troubled by what it has discovered so far in its year-old probe."
Wilkinson has brought about 40 major cases in government and private practice - and won them all .
Other antitrust experts compared her hiring to the government’s hiring of David Boies to represent it against Microsoft.
That case in the late 1990s transformed the tech industry, says the NYT, "reining in its most powerful company and allowing for the rise of new companies - like Google" . Could Google be getting a taste of its of its own medicine?
Google directs users to hundreds of millions of online and offline destinations every day. The core question is whether power has been abused, driving up advertising costs. The FTC inquiry has focused on whether Google has manipulated its search results, making it less likely that competing companies or products appear at the top of a results page.
Wilkinson , a partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss in Washington, begins her work at the F.T.C. on Monday.
“Technology is transforming our society,” she said in an interview, quoted by the Times. “It affects people at every level. As a mother, I see it with my kids. As a professional, I see it affecting our work. And in society, it impacts privacy, competition, our interactions with other people — just about everything.”
She added: “Working on the investigation will be a great challenge. I don’t underestimate Google.”