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Why/how did Google outbid Apple for AdMob? Schmidt: Google Apple not "primary competitors"

Recent revelations indicate that the seriousness of the FTC's antitrust investigation of Google's proposed acquisition of AdMob will be ramping up.

Only eight months ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt claimed Google and Apple were not "primary competitors" when a shareholder asked Mr. Schmidt to step down from Apple's board, because of an FTC antitrust investigation of Google for engaging in anti-competitive interlocking directorates per an AP story.

  • Only four months ago did Mr. Schmidt actually resign from the Apple board under pressure from the FTC.

While everyone is distracted by the front-page news of Google launching its own Google-manufactured smartphone called Nexus One, what I find most  interesting is that Google outbid Apple for AdMob by paying an exceptionally-high "multiple of up to ~16.7 times sales, the sort of price rarely seen in takeover deals since the heady days of the dot-com boom" per Reuters reports.

The Wall Street Journal also reported some very interesting new information/insights relevant to the FTC's Google-AdMob investigation:

  • "People familiar with Apple's thinking say it wanted to acquire AdMob to profit off the advertising in some of the apps in its App Store."
  • ..."While Apple takes a 30% cut of any app that a developer sells through its store, it makes no money off free apps or their ads. Google, meanwhile, already has a footprint in the mobile-advertising arena." [bold added for emphasis]
  • "These people say Apple also tried to buy AdMob as a defensive measure to keep Google from learning details about its App Store. AdMob, which sells ads inside applications, has access to data about the mobile marketplace." [bold emphasis added] 

The question FTC antitrust enforcers and Apple  should want answered is: "What did Mr. Schmidt know and when did he know it?" 

  • Did Mr. Schmidt use any of his confidential knowlege of Apple's strategic plans and priorities gained from his long-held Apple board seat in order to successfully guide Google's M&A effort to bid for AdMob and/or to know how to outbid Apple?
  • Did Mr. Schmidt recuse himself internally from any Google-AdMob deal discussions given his deep confidential knowledge of Apple's competitive position/interests? And is there a record of any such recusal?
  • Did Mr. Schmidt have any inside knowledge or information about how to strategically and "substantially lessen competition" from Apple to Google in mobile advertising? 

Given the FTC's ongoing investigation of Google-Apple interlocking directorates, its current preliminary investigation of Google's proposed acquisition of AdMob, and recent reports of Apple's serious interest in acquiring AdMob, the FTC appears to have a legal obligation to conduct a second request with civil investigative demands (CIDs or subpoenas) to determine if Mr. Schmidt's Apple board seat conferred Google any confidential and/or improper inside knowledge/information to enable Google to foreclose competition from Apple in mobile advertising? 

The Google-AdMob plot thickens.    

   

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