Google, Apple ties scrutinized by FTC

Google Inc. acknowledged Thursday that the Federal Trade Commission was making antitrust inquiries into ties between the search giant and Apple Inc., which are increasingly competing in areas such as mobile phones.

But Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said that relinquishing his seat on the Apple board of directors “hasn’t crossed my mind.”

“I don’t think Google sees Apple as a primary competitor,” Schmidt told reporters before the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View.

And Schmidt said he recuses himself if board discussion turns toward an area in which the two companies more closely face off: mobile phones, with Google’s Android operating system vying against Apple’s iPhone.


Google General Counsel Kent Walker said there was a “pending FTC discussion” underway but that the company felt it was on safe ground. He pointed to the Clayton Antitrust Act, which he said allows companies to share board members as long as the companies don’t have “overlapping revenues.”

Arthur Levinson, former Genentech Inc. chief executive, also sits on the boards of Google and Apple.

The inquiry was first reported by the New York Times on Monday. The FTC has not confirmed the discussions.

Google is the focus of a separate inquiry by the Justice Department related to its project to digitize millions of books. Company executives said they welcomed the scrutiny and that market leaders should not be immune from it. “We should expect governments around the world to pay attention to what we do,” Schmidt said, “and also to hold us to the principles that we’ve articulated.”