"Googlization of Everything" Good Primer for Antitrust Authorities

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-04-28 Print this article Print

There's a lot to say about Siva Vaidhyanathan's "The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)," published last month by The University of California Press. Let me start with this: If the Justice Department and/or the Federal Trade Commission are interested in launching broad antitrust lawsuits into Google's search practices, it would do well to read Googlization as a primer.

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This book subtly paints Google as a monopolist without expressly bellowing that "Google is a Monopolist."

I just finished reading it this week, and it's a breath of fresh air from all of the breathless pro-Google books that fawn over the company's creation, leadership and extension into other markets.

I should know; I've read three of them and am presently working my way through Steven Levy's excellent "In the Plex," which is so far the most detailed of all of what I call the "How Google thinks and works" tomes (Randall Strauss' "Planet Google," Richard Brandt's "Inside Larry and Sergey's Brain" and Ken Auletta's "Google."

Vaidhyanathan better than anyone rails against Google's argument that the "competition is just a click away" mantra, something I've alternately agreed with and felt queasy over.

My contention--and I've told this to Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich--is that while I can easily switch to Bing, the fact that I use a dozen Google Web services makes it difficult to switch.

Look at this way. I use Google's search, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Buzz, Goo.gl, YouTube, Docs, Google Finance, Google Images and more.

Most of these Web services have multiple levels of integration with each other. I feel like taking one out of the deck will topple the house of cards. That would be terrible.

Search is a tougher perk to punt. Sure, I can go to Bing but why would I when I've been using Google's personalized and suggested search since their launch. Thanks to my dozen-plus searches per day, Google's search already knows a hell of a lot about me through that. Switching to Bing would force me it to learn about me.

Privacy advocates would argue that is exactly why I should leave and why Google should be beaten with the monopoly bat. But I'm sort of a data libertarian. My uncle calls me a moron because of this, as most conservative blowhards may be wont to do.

I don't really have a name for the position I have found myself in with Google. "Virtual lock-in," I guess? Indeed, Vaidhyanathan argues on page 19 that the idea that Bing or Yahoo is a click away relies on the myth that Internet companies are "weightless and virtual." He adds:

[Google's] argument about user behavior could be valid if boycotting or migrating from Google did not incur significant downgrades in service by losing the advantage of integration with other Google services.

Okay, so I'm biased and triumphant because a super-smart university professor just made the point I've been thinking about since 2009 when I realized I could switch to Bing but realized it would create exactly the kind of inefficiencies Googlers work so hard to avoid.

And that very notion is anathema to me. Can the government sue Google for this? No lawyer, Vaidhyanathan artfully dodges this idea, but it's clear Microsoft, lesser known search engines and advertisers are looking to prove Google is as awful and greedy for businesses as it is great and generous to consumers with its ad-supported Web services.

Vaidhyanathan covers Google's leveraging of YouTube, which he approved, the Google Books disaster, which he scorns, and many other topics.

My chief criticism of the book is that it meanders into the polemical wilderness, citing both popular and obscure theories from economists and philosophers, before connecting the classical dots to Google's newfangled business and processes.

The problem I have with this is that we don't really have a basis for what Google is doing, as evidenced with the challenge of suing a company because it has become so dominant by dint of popularity in lieu of customer lock-in.

Net-net, Googlization articulates why the search engine should be regulated better than anything I've read yet.

At 210 pages, it's well worth any Google watcher's time.

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