Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) recently got its hand slapped by a federal judge. According to the Associated Press, the FBI has been sending letters to Google to collect unlimited sensitive, private information, such as financial and phone records, prompting complaints that the government is infringing on the privacy of citizens. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston on Tuesday rejected Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s arguments and ordered Google to comply with the demands of the FBI. For now Google must comply with the judge’s ruling — even though it is on hold until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decides on to overturn the judge’s decision or not.
In the meantime, data on 7,201 people will be leaving Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and will go into the hands of the FBI. Hopefully, the information will reduce criminal activities, but stakeholders in Google should feel a little uncomfortable as it furthers the impression that Google may not be protecting the data of its users.
How should shareholders react?
The news certainly isn’t good for Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) shareholders. The implication of this FBI win means a loss of brand value, perhaps even a loss of market share. Recently, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) launched an advertising campaign with a catch phrase, “Don’t get Scroogled.” The advertising team at Microsoft was able to gain back some market share from the ad campaign, and the advertising team over at Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) could worsen the public perception of Google’s image.
Corporate warfare has gotten a little messy. Fortune 500 companies are name calling each other and looking for every opening to take a bigger share of the pie. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (KRX:005930) paid people to say positive things about Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (KRX:005930) Galaxy S, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook was brought before a hearing in order to attest on behalf of Apple’s tax practices internationally. Technology companies could be the next punching bag for scrutiny by the broader public.
Take your position
I still believe Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is a compelling investment opportunity despite the recent run in with the FBI. The concern I have comes from the fact that Google search advertising represents a large percentage of the company’s total revenue, and even a moderate decline in earnings from search advertising could cause a slight miss on earnings.
Therefore, investors who want nothing to do with the added cost of government intervention should consider buying either Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) or Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). These two companies are likely to grow, but the growth doesn’t come with any significant risk as both companies have a heavily diversified portfolio of businesses, and an excessive amount of cash on the balance sheet.