Why Google Is Vulnerable to Feds, Not Microsoft Bing

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-08

Why Google Is Vulnerable to Feds, Not Microsoft Bing

News Analysis: Google trumped Microsoft Bing when it launched real-time search engine capabilities Dec. 7, but this innovation comes against Google's growing hunger in other areas of the Web that may make Google susceptible to federal scrutiny.

The software algorithms powering Google's real-time search required dozens of new technologies, according to Google Fellow Amit Singhal, who triumphantly demonstrated the capabilities in a launch event. It's no accident Google launched this at the Computer History Museum; Singhal and Google believe they made computing history.

Quite possibly, they did. Google's integrates news stories, blog posts and Twitter tweets in real time and serves them unobtrusively in the middle of the page. Bing only surfaces Twitter tweets on a separate site for indexing tweets, called Bing Twitter.

eWEEK believes Google's real-time play has a greater chance of succeeding because it keeps users within the core search experience. It's exactly this type of innovation that is making Google impervious to Microsoft's ambitious Bing search engine effort.

But while Google had met little resistance for its march on search - it commands 65 percent of the market in the United States and 70 percent abroad -- the company's unabashed hunger to extend its tendrils across the broader Web is only setting it up for further scrutiny by the U.S. government.

Google is making a lot of enemies these days by entering markets and disrupting them. GigaOm chronicled more than a dozen companies Google stands to impact with its recent moves.

In October, Google launched a free GPS system for its Android phones that could knock our GPS device providers such as Garmin or TomTom. Google doesn't actually make GPS devices, but by putting a free app in the phones, which can sit in a docking station in a motor vehicle, the company is obviating the need for GPS devices. That is a classic market disruption.

Google last week rolled out Google DNS, a free domain name system -- a kind of switchboard for the Internet -- as an alternative to paid services from OpenDNS, UltraDNS and Tucows. What does Google want with this kind of infrastructure? By making the Web faster, Google is ostensibly improving its search, enabling it to show more relevant results and therefore more relevant ads to users.

OpenDNS Founder David Ulevitch noted after Google launched DNS:

"It's not clear that Internet users really want Google to keep control over so much more of their Internet experience than they do already - from Chrome OS at the bottom of the stack to Google Search at the top, it is becoming an end-to-end infrastructure all run by Google, the largest advertising company in the world. I prefer a heterogeneous Internet with lots of parties collaborating to make this thing work as opposed to an Internet run by one big company."

But a heterogeneous Internet appears to be disappearing, eclipsed by Google's great shadow, even down to niche markets. For example, Google launched Sidewiki in September, which seemingly renders ReframeIt moot.

Why use a annotation plug-in from an unknown startup to share your thoughts when you can use one that boasts the broadest access to other Web users?

Google also recently quietly launched Google Dictionary, which could take searches (and therefore ad revenue) from Answers.com, Merriam & Webster and Dictionary.com.

With Google already offering Gmail, YouTube, translation tools and a host of other Web services, it is becoming the hub for users' Web surfing. With Google serving almost every computer user's online needs, Google is making its value proposition more about why shouldn't users use Google than why should they use Google.

Googles Web Purview is Broadening

Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, recognized this when he told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo in a segment aired on television Dec. 3:

"There's no reason to think that in five years Google won't be the equivalent of the Web itself because it's active in so many different areas of the Web, including hosted Web video and Web publishing."

This brazen unwillingness to leave any Web niche alone to others is bound to foster fear and mistrust among startups in the space. This mass mistrust sets it up to be targeted by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. Even now, the FTC is said to be reviewingGoogle's $750 million bid to acquire AdMob, which IDC said would give Google 24 percent of the mobile display ad market.

That doesn't come close to the company's paid text ad market share of some 90 percent, but the FTC is scrutinizing it just the same. This would not have happened three or four years ago.

Google arguably put itself in the crosshairs when it tried to partner with Yahoo in search to thwart Microsoft. That gaffe has been eclipsed by the negative attention Google is being paid over the Google Book Search deal, whose opponents claim the company's offer to digitize the world's out-of-print books affords it too much control.

Even if government groups don't take action on Google at every step, they are collecting evidence of Google's greed and use it as ammunition for any future transgressions the company may make.

Who is to say what those will be? Google plays in some many Web circles that opposition and trust issues can crop up on any front. However, experts agree that Google's worst enemy is itself, or at least its Bigness, with the feds coming in to burst Google's bubble.

In a New York Times interview face-off, Steve Lohr asked journalist Ken Auletta, who wrote "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It" and Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, if Google is headed for an "antitrust collision."

Auletta replied:

"Americans have long been fearful of corporate power, and companies with clout in Washington have assembled to urge elected officials to circumscribe Google's power. The mountain of data Google collects is a source of worry, particularly in Europe where privacy laws are more stringent. And every powerful media industry - from newspapers and magazines to books to television to movies to music - has rung the alarm bell to protect their copyrights.

Although Google has become more aware of these threats and has better armed itself to deal with governments, its executives also believe they have powerful Democratic friends in Washington. They would forget, at their peril, that Democrats traditionally warn of Bigness (except big government) and believe in government regulation."

Though it irked him to agree because he dislikes government regulation (find us a VC that does like it!), Wilson added:

"Google may well be headed for its own antitrust collision. It is very dominant in search and even more so in search monetization. There are other markets like mapping and related technologies where it appears to be developing a dominant position."

As it stand now, Google's real-time search offering should keep users from going to Bing or any of the startups hawking real time.

If Bing or any other search player is to make headway versus Google, it will have to keep innovating and hope that Google stumbles and finds itself in a antitrust nightmare worthy of, well, Microsoftian proportions.

That is Bing's only hope of challenging the Do No Evil Empire.   

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