When Google needed government sign-off on a 2007 acquisition that would tighten its grip on the digital advertising market, the company turned to antitrust attorney and lobbyist Makan Delrahim to help get the job done.
Now, as the Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer, Delrahim could be the one to undo it all.
As U.S. competition enforcers cast a more critical eye on the nation’s biggest technology companies, Delrahim would play the leading role in any DOJ lawsuit accusing Google of stifling markets and harming consumers. It’s a striking turn of events given the assistant attorney general’s past role in shepherding the company’s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, a display advertising and ad tech firm that has played a central part in establishing Google’s market dominance.
“He worked on the key merger and, ironically, his job now is to undo the consequences,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based public interest group that opposed the Google-DoubleClick deal on the grounds that it would harm consumer privacy and depress competition.
Delrahim, a 49-year-old Iranian émigré with decades of antitrust experience and some light dabbling in Hollywood, has declined to discuss his plans with regard to Google. But the Justice Department began laying the groundwork weeks ago for a possible probe of the company, and Delrahim has already drawn a harder line than many antitrust observers had expected in opposing the accumulation of corporate power.
The prime example so far is the unsuccessful lawsuit his staff waged last year in an attempt to stop AT&T from gobbling up entertainment provider Time Warner, an $85 billion merger that gave control over a vast arsenal of film and television programming to a major internet, pay-TV and satellite provider.
If Delrahim goes after Google, he could align the Trump administration with progressive Democrats who also have major beefs with Silicon Valley — further demonstrating the growing political peril for the nation’s biggest tech companies.
Several Democratic candidates running for president, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have said antitrust officials should take a hard look at breaking up tech companies that wield too much influence over markets and people’s digital lives. Warren has specifically named Google’s purchase of DoubleClick as one previously approved merger the government should look at reversing — along with examples such as Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram.