Echofon On FTC’s Google/Admob Inquiry: I Felt Pressured To Say Things That Met Their Goal

For months, the Federal Trade Commission has been considering whether or not to block Google’s acquisition of Admob for $750 million, which was announced back in November. As part of its investigation, the FTC has been reaching out to developers of mobile applications to get their thoughts. The only problem? Numerous developers and even some Admob competitors are coming out to say that they support the deal, and some of them believe that the people involved in the investigation are either unqualified or have an anti-Google agenda. The latest to join the fray is Echofon, which has just written a blog post likening its conversations with the FTC to an interrogation.

The post was penned by Chika Watanabe, who writes that she has spoken with the FTC for at least five hours about the deal. Overall, Watanabe writes that “the FTC seemed to have a (strong) agenda”, as it pounced on things she said that could possibly be used against Google. As an example, Watanabe recalls a discussion in which she mentioned that Google may have pulled a ‘bait and switch’ by offering high ad rates at first and then dropping them, but she didn’t have evidence and didn’t consider it to be a major issue. But the FTC wouldn’t let it go:

The FTC staff seemed to jump on my comment, and tried to use it to portray how unfair Google was.

I made sure to emphasize that we had no proof that Google did this intentionally, and the drop could have been due to many other reasons.

In fact, it did not affect our choice of ad networks either. Since we can allocate our ad inventory among different ad networks on the fly, we just allocate more of our ad inventory to an ad network when it’s performing well, and less it when it’s not. This real-time allocation is done with an ad mediator service. There were several of those ad mediators, and we use Adwhirl.

The FTC staff kept going back to the possibility that Google did the bait-and-switch intentionally, and I had to say we had no proof for that several times.

In another discussion, Watanabe attempted to bring up the issue of the Apple/Quattro deal and iAd, which could potentially block third-party ad networks from appearing on the iPhone. She was told that it was “irrelevant” (it clearly isn’t). Later, when the FTC produced a written declaration and asked Watanabe to sign it, it lacked any mention of the Apple/Quattro deal. Watanabe fought back until it was added:

After my insistence, they included one paragraph about it but without any explanation of why this was significant to Google/Admob deal, making it sound out of place. After one or two more back-and-forth, they finally put my whole argument in the declaration.

Watanabe also addresses the opinions some developers have had that the FTC is simply not qualified to make this decision. She disagrees, explaining that she believes they do have the capacity to make an informed decision. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean they’ll do it fairly. Toward the end of her post, she writes:

To me, the problem was that the FTC seemed to be determined to stop the deal from the beginning. Though they did agree to put together the declaration close enough to my belief in the end, I felt I was pressured to say things in a way that met their goal. (The word “interrogation” came to my mind several times while talking to them.)

We’d previously heard that the FTC was aiming to reach a decision in early May, but it has since been reported that it got a two-week extension. Expect a final decision soon.

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