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Schmidt exit won't stop FTC Google, Apple probe

Genentech exec may also have to quit

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revealed it will continue its investigation into whether Apple and Google violated antitrust laws by sharing two directors, despite the fact that Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple's Board of Directors yesterday.

Schmidt stepped down after months of scrutiny and online chatter about the fact that he sat on the board of a company that increasingly competes with his own. Schmidt wasnt alone, though. Genentech Board Chairman Arthur Levinson also sits on the boards of both Google and Apple.

FTC Bureau of Competition Director Richard Feinstein said that the agency has been looking into the issue and will continue to do so.

"We have been investigating the Google/Apple interlocking directorates issue for some time and commend them for recognising that sharing directors raises competitive issues, as Google and Apple increasingly compete with each other", said Feinstein.

With Schmidt off Apple's board, the spotlight is shifting to Levinson who has come under fire from a consumer group that wants him to vacate his seat on the board of either Google or Apple.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, called on Levinson to pick one board or the other.

"It took Eric Schmidt far too long to realise that the two roles are incompatible. That's not surprising considering the clubby atmosphere of Silicon Valley," said John M Simpson, a Consumer Watchdog consumer advocate.

"Nonetheless, we're glad Schmidt finally did the right thing. We call on Levinson to act responsibly and choose one company or the other."

In recent months as competition between Google and Apple has increased. Google's Chrome browser goes up against Apple's Safari and Google's Android goes head-to-head with the iPhone. That competition grew a little more heated when, just last month, Google announced that it is developing the Chrome OS, which will go up against Apples Mac OS X.

Eric Schmidt stepping down from the Apple board certainly highlights the conflicts that are present on many boards of directors, said Dan Olds, an analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group.

"There is a value to having a smart technology guy on your board. But when that board member is the CEO of a company that is becoming a direct competitor in some markets, then it's gone too far and something needs to change," he said.

"With Levinson, it's an indirect conflict, he's on both boards. In light of how Google and Apple are becoming competitors, it would be a good idea for him to pick one boat to ride in and abandon the other."

Olds added that it's a matter of logistics as well as a matter of perception negative perception.

It isn't that directors will do things to hurt either company, but directors get confidential information and are privy to long-range strategies and plans, he noted.

"There is a perception that this will colour the opinion and advice they give to the other company. Plus, there is a higher risk that confidential info may slip out."

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See also: 7 ways to get better search results with Google


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