Setting Man free from men: Google [finally] to be served with subpoenas by US Senate and Federal Trade Commission, but should Marissa Mayer be testifying?

“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

According to numerous news outlets and apologists, Google is about to be served (one hesitates to say “hit”) with subpoenas by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Senate.  One of Google’s principal apologists devotes some ink to comparing Microsoft’s experiences with the Senate to Google, which “by contrast, has shown more of a willingness to compromise“.   Really.  Was that “willingness to compromise” particularly present a few weeks ago when Google refused to show up to a Senate hearing on how it supports sites that profit from the theft of music and movies by sharing Adsense revenues?

In todays apologia, we are told that the U.S. Senate is grandstanding in their interest in getting Eric Schmidt or Larry Page to testify and is imposing a double standard on Google–why?  Because when the Senate had an interest in a particular functionality in Apple’s gear, Apple sent a divisional VP and not Steve Jobs.  The Senators haven’t gotten enough publicity and want to get more by calling Google’s CEO and “Executive Chairman” to respond to the people.

This argument–or talking point–from a Google-connected-journalist is echoed in, of all places, Marketwatch in the breathless paen entitled “Google Subpoena: An Attack on Capitalism” complete with truly odd references to Ayn Rand probably designed to raise the blood of Lessig’s fans among libertarians (conveniently cross-linked to CNET which links back to Marketwatch).  (Yet another example of journalist spontaneous independent creation concerning Google in less than a fortnight.)

This is sort of the equivalent of saying you must be a believer in the Reagan philosophy because you, too, eat jelly beans, or that you believe in the Clinton principles because you, too, have given money to charity.  No less because the writer seems to completely ignore the personal responsibility trope that is at the heart of Rand’s philosophy in her rush to bash the Congress and promote Google’s position.

The reason that CEOs should show up and take responsibility for those over whom they are responsible is because they are responsible.  This is particularly true in the case of Google.  Because “[m]oney is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but
it will not replace you as the driver.”  Ayn Rand said that, too.

Both these pieces struggle from shoehorning in their talking points because they want you to focus on the clash of personalities between elected officials and unelected corporate titans instead of the democracy issue.  While it may be true that the officials and titans involved both think themselves superior to the other for whatever reasons, what is also true is that elected officials serve at the pleasure of their constituents, and the Google currency that makes it rich is its stock–sold in the public markets at the pleasure of those same constituents.  If Google wants all the benefits of being able to raise money in the public equity and debt markets to fund, among other things, its litigation against creators who cannot do the same, then Google can bear the burdens as well as enjoy the benefits.

And they can show up when the people ask them to.  That’s the deal.  These writers fail to address these points and for that reason I find their writing fallacious.

Setting that flaw aside, the two hearings present a false choice.  The Apple hearing that was and the future Google hearings have little or no relation to each other in substance or gravity.  The ultimate result of Apple’s testimony was probably going to be legislation dealing with user privacy.  The ultimate result of Google’s testimony might be breaking up the company and possibly someone doing time.  So it’s not grandstanding for the Senate to request that the top executives show up and take responsibility for the instructions they gave and not some lawyer who’s going to do all he can to run out the clock and avoid candor.

The big boys will show up eventually.  Why waste time?

I don’t know what Google’s problem is with sending Schmidt or Page.  They can always take the 5th.  Just ask Frank Costello.

It may actually be a better idea to hear testimony from Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Geographic and Local Services, Google, Inc. who said:  “[When] we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first… That has actually been our policy, since then, because of Finance. So for Google Maps again, it’s the first link.” (at 45:10)

If it’s a first hand knowledge of how Google rigs search that you want, then someone may ask Mayer to explain under oath exactly what she meant in this statement on video.  A YouTube video, of course.  Is there another kind?  (And if not, why not?)

I think that it’s kind of ironic that this story is breaking the same day as the FBI capture of the criminal Whitey Bulger.  The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.  And Bulger reportedly said of the charges against him, “I know [the charges] pretty well.”  Who could ask less of Google?