Google launches a wide-ranging campaign highlighting what it calls its competition and openness, meeting with policy makers and media in order to convince them of its anti-monopolistic intentions. However, at least one consumer advocacy group has decided to refute the search engine giant's claims in a particularly high-profile way.
has grown larger and come under scrutiny for potential antitrust practices, the
search engine giant has decided to launch something of a charm offensive,
engaging both politicians and media types on talking points designed to portray
the company as healthy for online competition.
In advance of Google's annual shareholder meeting on May 7, CEO
Eric Schmidt responded to antitrust accusations
by saying the company had
become "more careful about when and how we do things."
That hasn't stopped consumer advocacy groups from arguing that Google has
the potential to be a monopoly, and in response to reported investigations by
the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice, Google has set out to publicly
refute those claims.
On May 8, a posting on the Google Public Policy blog
announced that the
company has been meeting with "policymakers, think tank representatives,
academics, journalists, ad agencies and trade associations" in order to
pound home a message that the company is amenable to both competition and
openness, as opposed to being a search engine Death Star.
"We haven't always done a good job telling our story," Adam
Kovacevich, senior manager of global communications and public affairs for
Google, wrote in the blog post, following up with what he described as Google's
"six principles of competition and openness." These were:
Help other businesses be more competitive.
Make it easy for users to change.
Open is better than closed.
Competition is one click away.
Advertisers pay what a click is worth to them.
Advertisers have many choices in a dynamic market.
Certain consumer advocacy organizations, however, do not have a warm and
fuzzy feeling about Google's motives. In a May 8 news release, nonprofit group
Consumer Watchdog described sending the Department of Justice a copy of a
document that Google had been using to back its anti-monopolistic claims; the
nonprofit group had taken the liberty of marking the document up with comments.
"As the Justice Department examines the Google book deal and other
Google enterprises, it deserves to see the play book Google has prepared to
deflect scrutiny and insider commentary on how many Google myths lack a basis
in reality," the accompanying Consumer Watchdog statement said.
"Google's charm and spin should not be allowed to deter antitrust
regulators from seeing the real problems with Google's dominance."
Google's original presentation can be downloaded here,
(PDF) while the version marked up by Consumer Watchdog can be found here.
The markups by Consumer Watchdog pull no punches. For example, on the
opening page, entitled, "Google, Competition and Openness," the group
has written beneath, "'Openness pushed on other businesses (open-source
access, Internet, handset, spectrum, yaddah, yaddah...'"
In response to Google's first principle of competition and openness,
"Help other businesses be more competitive," the group wrote,
"LOL ... not working so well for newspapers, publishers, booksellers,
search, advertisers, media, etc."
argued in May 7 Congressional testimony
that its Google News service will
help boost digital media by attracting advertising dollars and ensuring that relevant
news stories end up pushed to the top of its cluster.
This is not the first time that Consumer Watchdog has taken a run at Google.
In April 2009, the group sent a letter
to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Justice Department
intervene in the Google settlement with The Authors Guild and the Association
of American Publishers, arguing that the deal was not in the best interests of
Under the settlement, Google created a nonprofit Book Rights Registry to
handle digital rights issues, which gave Google the right to negotiate on the
same terms as any future competitor for digital book rights. A spokesperson for
Consumer Watchdog argued that the move constituted an "'anti-compete'
clause ... which precludes smaller competitors from entering a market."
In response, the Justice
Department reportedly began looking into the settlement as a potential
interviewing representatives of the participants in the
deal. However, such talks don't necessarily indicate that the Justice
Department will find fault with or scuttle the settlement.