Connect with us



People walk near the Google offices on July 04, 2022 in New York City.

John Smith | View Press | Getty Images

Google‘s parent company Alphabet has stacked its legal team with former Department of Justice employees as it fights two separate antitrust lawsuits from the agency, public profiles show.

Former DOJ employees make up both its in-house team and members of outside counsel firms it employs. The company has hired three former DOJ officials into regulatory roles since May 2022, and one before that in 2021, according to public information including social media profiles. Google also uses four different outside counsel firms loaded with nearly 20 former DOJ officials, many of whom worked in the Antitrust Division at various times.

Such hiring to its internal regulatory team is a reflection of the intense scrutiny Google is facing from governments around the world. It can be a signal that a company anticipates dealing with regulatory challenges in years to come, even if it doesn’t know exactly what form it’ll take yet, according to two former government officials.

“When companies find themselves under intense scrutiny from regulatory authorities, antitrust law or otherwise, they make moves like this,” said Bill Kovacic, a former Federal Trade Commission chair who now teaches antitrust law at George Washington University.

Google now faces two antitrust challenges from the DOJ, both to its search and ad tech businesses, and additional challenges from a slew of state attorneys general. Regulators around the world, including in Europe and Australia, have also presented policy and enforcement hurdles.

Google’s hiring is not surprising for a company under such a microscope, according to Doug Melamed, a former acting assistant attorney general at the DOJ Antitrust Division who’s now a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School.

The company had already been fighting one complex antitrust case that would likely require a team of 10 to 15 lawyers alone, according to Melamed, when the Department brought its second antitrust challenge against the company earlier this year.

“They don’t have the capacity to handle a case like that just sitting idle,” Melamed said. “They’ve got to now think about well, what outside lawyers are available that have to have the time and expertise to handle this case? And then, do I have the in-house capability to support it and supervise it?”

The added threat of new legislation targeting Google’s business, and that of other tech firms, looms. In the near term, it appears that a massive lobbying campaign by the industry has successfully delayed the most disruptive reforms. But the possibility of renewed energy around that legislation still hangs over the industry, and a company like Google “can take nothing for granted now,” Kovacic said, adding that’s likely a reason for the company to build out its regulatory forces.

“New entrants and new innovations are driving competition and delivering value for America’s consumers, publishers, and merchants,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement for this story. “We’re proud of our services and we look forward to making our case in court.”

Revolving door hiring

Alphabet now has at least five former DOJ staffers on its legal team, including Google’s director of competition Kevin Yingling, who’s been with the company for more than a decade and worked as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice from 2000 to 2005, according to his LinkedIn.

The company hired Kate Smith as counsel for Alphabet’s regulatory response, investigations and strategy unit in February 2021, according to LinkedIn. Smith was a trial attorney in the DOJ’s Civil Frauds division from September 2015 until January 2021.

In May 2022, according to LinkedIn, Alphabet hired Mike Kass, a former trial attorney in the DOJ’s Civil Fraud section, as its regulatory and litigation counsel for products.

A month later, the company hired Seema Mittal Roper as counsel on its regulatory response team. Mittal Roper worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the DOJ in Maryland from 2013 to 2018, according to LinkedIn.

Most recently, the company hired Jack Mellyn as strategy counsel on its regulatory team. Mellyn was previously an attorney advisor and then acting assistant chief in the DOJ’s competition policy and advocacy section, according to a previously available social media profile.

It’s not clear which employees are working on the specific matters before the DOJ and Kass’ role appears focused outside of antitrust. It’s likely these employees never worked on Google-related matters they’re dealing with now during their time in government, given their dates and areas of previous employment, as well as federal ethics rules that bar certain conflicts.

But experts say this kind of hiring, which is common among businesses faced with regulatory scrutiny, can still be beneficial to a company because of the unique insight, touch or credibility that an ex-government attorney might hold when it comes to their former colleagues.

“There are lots of lawyers out there. But only alumni of an office really understand how that office works,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which tracks the business ties of executive branch officials. “That means its strengths and weaknesses, that means the tendencies of people in that office. And they can therefore give much more concrete intelligence and better-informed advice to their client.”

Hauser said this may mean the lawyers could advise a client or employer to flood the agency with information rather than comply with a certain document request, knowing that the enforcers don’t have the capacity to deal with it. Or, they might suggest strategies to approach a deposition, knowing the government staffer conducting it.

A lawyer who’s had experience in the government doesn’t bring information about the specific matters of the companies involved, but rather brings a general perspective about how the agency is approaching these kinds of problems,” Melamed said.

Enforcement agencies also often have to trust whether they believe the target of an investigation has complied with its requests. Hauser said the agencies may be more inclined to take the word of their former colleagues, compared to a more removed attorney.

A recent event shows what can happen when that trust is broken. The DOJ last month accused Google of destroying chat messages it should have kept under a litigation hold related to the investigation. The DOJ made the accusation in a legal filing after Epic Games raised the concern in its own antitrust litigation against Google.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement at the time of the DOJ’s filing that they “strongly refute the DOJ’s claims.”

Google also works with outside counsel firms on its antitrust cases, including Axinn, Freshfields, Ropes & Gray and Wilson Sonsini, based on reports, statements and legal filings. Those firms collectively have around 20 former DOJ employees on their staff, many of them working in antitrust. Though these attorneys may not all work on Google matters, the firms themselves often tout the benefit of former government officials in bringing a helpful perspective to clients.

For example, Freshfields says on its website that its “deep bench of former DOJ and FTC trial attorneys gives us unique insight into how the enforcement agencies approach enforcement in general and litigation in particular.”

Kovacic said agency experience is something companies look for in hiring outside firms.

“In deciding who to retain, what law firm to retain or what economic consultancy to retain, they would place a lot of weight on how many former government officials are in those firms,” Kovacic said.

Freshfields attorneys Julie Elmer and Eric Mahr have led Google’s defense against an advertising technology monopolization case brought by a group of states led by Texas, The New York Times reported in 2021. And Bloomberg Law reported this year that Mahr will also lead its defense in the ad tech case brought by the DOJ.

Mahr was director of litigation for the DOJ Antitrust Division from 2015 to 2017, according to the Freshfields site, and Elmer worked as a trial attorney in the Antitrust Division from 2015 to 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Revolving door hiring goes both ways between the public and private sectors, with government officials often working for previous employers or clients who become relevant in their work. For example, DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter previously worked for clients including Microsoft and Yelp which have complained of Google’s allegedly anticompetitive behavior.

Ultimately, however, Kanter was cleared to work on cases and investigations involving Google, despite the company’s suggestion that his past work should cast doubt on his ability to be fair in such matters.

The DOJ and Wilson Sonsini declined to comment. The three other firms mentioned did not immediately provide a comment for this story.

Limits for former government employees

There are limits on what former government officials can work on under federal ethics and Bar rules.

For example, the DOJ’s website says that former employees can’t represent someone before the government on an issue involving parties they “personally and substantially” worked on during their time in government. For two years after leaving the Department, a former employee also cannot represent anyone before the government in a matter involving parties they know “was pending under his official responsibility for the last year of government service and in which the U.S. is a party or has a substantial interest.”

And for one year after leaving the agency, former senior employees cannot represent someone before the agency “with the intent to influence” the DOJ on a pending matter or one in which it has an interest.

Personal and substantial work on a matter within government doesn’t depend on the length of time devoted to it, but the role a person played in potentially influencing the outcome or direction, according to Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) who previously advised government officials on ethics at agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Treasury Department.

But even if a former government official can’t work on a specific matter they were privy to during their earlier employment, their insight might still be useful to a company.

“You can read about it, but when you’re actually part of dealing with these cases, you know that there are certain factors that are going to either act as mitigating or … that are going to more favorably incline you to bring a case,” Canter said. “It’s just your general knowledge and experience.”

When companies hire former government officials, they may also have the idea that those employees will be viewed more favorably by the current regime.

“Maybe there’s just this general impression that they’re trying to surround themselves with what will be perceived by their former colleagues as the good guys,” Canter hypothesized.

Some might argue that experience could be beneficial to the government in some cases, Canter noted. A former government employee might have a deeper understanding of the importance of compliance or providing certain information to officials, for example, having seen up close what could be at stake if they don’t.

Hauser said it’s unlikely DOJ leadership, especially Kanter, who has made a point to bring more aggressive cases in the tech space and overall, would be overly swayed to view things Google’s way in ongoing matters. But, he said, the impact of former DOJ staff employed by Google could be more influential in an emerging issue, where there’s an opportunity to leave a first impression on senior leadership about it.

The degree of this kind of influence may be relatively small on the level of an individual case, Hauser said, but for a company under such a high degree of regulatory scrutiny, it could add up.

“You’re talking about billions and billions of dollars of potential implications for Google’s net worth,” Hauser said. “Relatively small changes in the scope of the investigation, the timeframe of the investigation, can be very big, even if they don’t go to the overall question of will there be any lawsuits by the Justice Department against Google.”

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: How US antitrust law works, and what it means for Big Tech

The evolution of US antitrust law

Continue Reading


Microsoft Bing now uses OpenAI’s DALL-E A.I. to turn text into images




Microsoft Bing now uses OpenAI's DALL-E A.I. to turn text into images

OpenAI displayed on screen with Microsoft Bing double photo exposure on mobile, seen in this photo illustration.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Microsoft on Tuesday added a new artificial intelligence-powered capability to its search slate: AI-generated visuals.

The new tool, powered by OpenAI’s DALL-E, will allow users to generate images using their own words, such as asking for a picture of “an astronaut walking through a galaxy of sunflowers,” the company explained in a press release.

related investing news

For investors looking for solid ground in an uncertain market, balance sheet is king

CNBC Investing Club

The feature, called “Bing Image Creator,” will be available to Bing and Microsoft Edge users in preview. It will first roll out in the search engine’s “Creative Mode.” Eventually, it’ll become fully integrated into the Bing chat experience, the company added.

On Microsoft Edge, the image generator will become available in the browser’s search bar.

Microsoft has bolstered its AI-assisted search functions in recent months, first announcing AI-powered updates to Bing and Edge in early February.

Last week, the tech giant also announced it would add its generative AI technology to some of its most popular business apps, including Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

Excitement around the promise of generative AI has been driven in large part by the runaway success of ChatGPT, which was released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI in November.

As Microsoft’s new capabilities became available to users, some beta testers identified issues, including threats, unhelpful advice and other glitches.

Microsoft says it’s taken steps to curb the misuse of Bing Image Creator by working with OpenAI to develop safety measures for the public.

These safety measures include controls “that aim to limit the generation of harmful or unsafe images,” plus a modified Bing icon that will be added to the bottom left corner of images, with the goal of clarifying the images were created using AI, Microsoft said.

Microsoft’s tiered approach to Bing Image Creator’s rollout is also inspired by the iterative approach the company attempted with past releases.

“People used it in some ways we expected and others we didn’t,” Microsoft said of Bing’s new capabilities. “In this spirit of learning and continuing to build new capabilities responsibly, we’re rolling out Bing Image Creator in a phased approach by flighting with a set of preview users before expanding more broadly.”

Continue Reading


Google CEO tells employees that 80,000 of them helped test Bard A.I., warns ‘things will go wrong’




Google CEO tells employees that 80,000 of them helped test Bard A.I., warns 'things will go wrong'

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2020.

Fabrice COFFRINI | AFP | Getty Images

Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the success of its newly launched Bard A.I. program now hinges on public testing.

“As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong,” Pichai wrote in an internal email to employees Tuesday viewed by CNBC. “But the user feedback is critical to improving the product and the underlying technology.”

The message to employees comes as Google launched Bard as “an experiment” Tuesday morning, after months of anticipation. The product, which is built on Google’s LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, can offer chatty responses to complicated or open-ended questions, such as “give me ideas on how to introduce my daughter to fly fishing.”

Alphabet shares were up almost 4% in mid-day trading following the announcement.

In many disclaimers in the product, the company warns that Bard may make mistakes or “give inaccurate or inappropriate responses.” 

The latest internal messaging comes as the company tries to keep apace with the quickly evolving advancements in generative AI technology over the last several months — especially Microsoft-backed OpenAI and its ChatGPT technology.

Employees and investors criticized Google after Bard’s initial announcement in January, which appeared rushed to compete with Microsoft’s just-announced Bing integration of ChatGPT. In a recent all-hands meeting, employees’ top-rated questions included confusion around the purpose of Bard. At that meeting, executives defended Bard as an experiment and tried to make distinctions between the chatbot and its core search product.

Pichai’s Tuesday email also said 80,000 Google employees contributed to testing Bard, responding to Pichai’s all-hands-on-deck call to action last month, which included a plea for workers to re-write the chatbot’s bad answers.

Pichai’s Tuesday note also said the company is trying to test responsibly and invited 10,000 trusted testers “from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.”

Pichai also said employees “should be proud of this work and the years of tech breakthroughs that led us here, including our 2017 Transformer research and foundational models such as PalM and BERT.” He added: “Even after all this progress, we’re still in the early stages of a long Al journey.”

“For now, I’m excited to see how Bard sparks more creativity and curiosity in the people who use it,” he said, adding he looks forward to sharing “the breadth of our progress in AI” at Google’s annual developer conference in May.

Here’s the full memo:

Hi, Googlers

Last week was an important week in Al with our announcements around Cloud, Developer, and Workspace. There’s even more to come this week as we begin to expand access to Bard, which we first announced in February.

Starting today, people in the US and the UK can sign up at This is just a first step, and we’ll continue to roll it out to more countries and languages over time.

I’m grateful to the Bard team who has probably spent more time with Bard than anything or anyone else over the past few weeks. Also hugely appreciative of the 80,000 Googlers who have helped test it in the company-wide dogfood. We should be proud of this work and the years of tech breakthroughs that led us here, including our 2017 Transformer research and foundational models such as PalM and BERT.

Even after all this progress, we’re still in the early stages of a long Al journey. As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong. But the user feedback is critical to improving the product and the underlying technology.

We’ve taken a responsible approach to development, including inviting 10,000 trusted testers from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and we’ll continue to welcome all the feedback that’s about to come our way. We will learn from it and keep iterating and improving.

For now, I’m excited to see how Bard sparks more creativity and curiosity in the people who use it. And I look forward to sharing the full breadth of our progress in Al to help people, businesses and communities as we approach I/O in May.


Continue Reading


TikTok CEO appeals to U.S. users ahead of House testimony




TikTok CEO appeals to U.S. users ahead of House testimony

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.

Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appealed directly to the app’s users ahead of what’s expected to be a heated grilling in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, in a video posted to the platform Tuesday.

Filming from Washington, D.C., Chew emphasized the large scale of TikTok users, small and medium-sized businesses and its own employees based in the U.S. that rely on the company. The message may preview his appeal to lawmakers Thursday, where he will be faced with questions about the ability of its Chinese parent company ByteDance, and the Chinese government, to access U.S. user information collected by the app.

TikTok says it has worked to create a risk mitigation plan to ensure that U.S. data doesn’t get into the hands of a foreign adversary through its app. The company has said U.S. user data is already stored outside of China.

But many lawmakers and intelligence officials seem to remain unconvinced that the information can be safe while TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. TikTok said last week that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is reviewing risks related to the app, is pushing for ByteDance to sell its stake or face a ban.

Chew disclosed in the video that TikTok has more than 150 million monthly active users, or MAUs, in the U.S., representing massive growth from August 2020, when it said for the first time that it has about 100 million MAUs in the country. That number includes 5 million businesses that use the app to reach their customers, with most of those being small or medium-sized businesses. He also said TikTok has 7,000 U.S.-based employees.

“This comes at a pivotal moment for us,” Chew said, referencing lawmakers’ threats of a TikTok ban. “This could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”

Chew then appealed to users directly to share in the comments what they want their representatives to know about why they love TikTok.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: TikTok and ByteDance spied on this Forbes reporter

TikTok and ByteDance spied on this Forbes reporter

Continue Reading