Joshua, We Hardly Knew Ye: One of Google’s Friends at the FTC Departs–What Does it Mean for Spotify?

Re/Code reports that FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright is exiting the agency on August 24th:

Joshua Wright, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission who has been viewed by some as troublingly pro-Google, is leaving the agency. The FTC announced the news on Monday. When Wright was appointed in 2012, he faced criticism for his positions on Google, particularly this paper critical of aggressive antitrust action. So he recused himselffrom cases involving the search giant for two years, including the high-profile case [against Google that the FTC failed to prosecute in 2013 and which is currently being vigorously pursued by the European Commission].

So why do we care?  This is a strange move because Commissioner Wright has only served three years of a seven year term (appointed by Spotify fan President Obama).  They don’t just hand out FTC appointments, so one has to ask what up with that?  You’d think that he’d like to serve out his term.  Realize–he’s not staying until the President appoints a replacement as is customary, even for appointments like Attorney General Holder.  Wright is leaving NOW and replacement be damned.  That’s odd.

But then again, if he had to recuse himself from Google cases, that may leave him with too much time on his hands even if we all know that Google will never be prosecuted for anything meaningful by the FTC as long as President Obama is in office.

Commissioner Wright recently got called out by Buzzfeed after these tweets:

William Alden writing in Buzzfeed reports that these tweets are yet more evidence of agency capture by Google of the Federal Trade Commission–it’s indirect, but it’s not fooling anyone:

Google’s allies in Washington have used plenty of subtle techniques to help the search giant advance its agenda.

Now, one high-ranking official has employed the art of the subtweet.

Joshua Wright, a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, posted three tweets…that appear to refer to Google — the subject of a recent antitrust inquiry by the FTC that did not result in any charges — without mentioning the company by name.

Commissioner Wright’s tweets indirectly defended Google against the results of a damning study by Professor Tim Wu and others that demonstrate consumer harm by Google favoring its own products over those of competitors in search results.  (“Is Google Degrading Search? Consumer Harm from Universal Search.”) See Andrew Orlowski’s reporting on the study.  That study comes at an unfortunate time for Google who is facing antitrust prosecution in Europe (for claims that the FTC professional staff though should have been brought in the US–before the FTC commissioners killed the US investigation.)

We’ll probably never know why Commissioner Wright decided to take early retirement from government service.  But we do know that at least Google will have one less vote for the reported FTC investigation of Apple Music supposedly at the behest of Spotify–where Google has a board seat.  Remember that after Apple Music launched, Spotify complained to the European Commission, too–which has exonerated Apple after looking into Spotify’s claims.  This is called “lawfare”–when a company doesn’t want to meet their competitor in the channel, they try to undermine them with lobbyists particularly when a board member has hired every lobbyist in the known universe and has lots of experience in manipulating the U.S. government to their advantage.

President Obama now has the opportunity to appoint someone to fill out Commissioner Wright’s term, which will require Senate confirmation–in an election year no less.  Let’s see who he appoints.  Maybe he’ll just cut to the chase and appoint his pal Eric Schmidt.