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Consumer Watchdog targets Google
Last month, Simpson organized a news conference with lawyers representing Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon and other Google competitors after he petitioned the Justice Department for a broad antitrust investigation. He found he was in good company.
Joseph Bial, an attorney for the search start-up MyTriggers, talked about his client's lawsuit against Google in Ohio for allegedly putting the competitor out of business by raising minimum bids for keyword ads by 1,000 percent. Bial also works for Microsoft but said his role in the MyTriggers case is separate.
Gary Reback said his Open Book Alliance, whose members include Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, think Google has unfairly precluded competition in the digital book market through a settlement that gives it first dibs on millions of titles.
"Look, we have all found similar concerns with Google and are coming together to show this is not a small problem," said Reback, an antitrust lawyer who a decade ago was on the other side, trying to break up Microsoft.
Simpson's crusade against Google comes amid growing public frustration that big corporations are largely responsible for a stubborn recession that has kept people out of jobs and forced them to foreclose on homes.
Although still relatively unknown, he's become an aggressive player in a growing party of companies and privacy and consumer groups who have called Google's business practices and influence into question.
Every month, Simpson, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., comes to Washington to meet with staff on the Hill and regulatory agencies, journalists and corporate lobbyists. Simpson said he met last week with Jim Tierney, chief of the networks and technology section of the antitrust division of the Justice Department, and staffers about his petition for a broad investigation. Last year, he testified before Congress about privacy and competition concerns in Google's book settlement.
Simpson's work is funded by the Rose Foundation, which provides grants for projects like privacy advocacy, and other charitable organizations that have no corporate ties, he said. He has a budget of about $200,000 that covers his salary and travel and was recently given a grant from a charitable foundation he won't name because he is afraid Google will press that foundation to pull its funding.
According to Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court, there was a precedent. He said Google called the Rose Foundation to yank Simpson's project last year. Google declined to comment on the claim.
Hired as a 'hell-raiser'
White-haired with black-rimmed glasses, Simpson smiles frugally, a trained skeptic after decades of editing foreign news for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. Before joining Consumer Watchdog, he spent a few years soul searching, teaching in Ireland and going to graduate school. He found a calling when his wife saw a Consumer Watchdog want ad looking for "hell-raisers." He speaks as plainly as his brown L.L. Bean boat shoes.
"I'm a hell-raiser. That was what I was hired to be," Simpson said. "The more I looked, the more I saw that this company was abusing its market power to dominate book search and now the mobile marketplace."
Those and other practices by Google don't sit comfortably with regulators, either. The Justice Department said Google's digital book settlement could give it an unfair advantage in the burgeoning market for e-books.