Why Regulators Are Treating Google Like the Next Microsoft

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-05-24 Print this article Print

Where Google is concerned, I'm never one to refrain from commenting on other reporters' stories or perspectives.

Every now and then I'll come across a piece that begs for commentary. The New York Times' Brad Stone published one such report, title: "Regulators Are Watching Google Over Antitrust Concerns." Here is the thesis:

Almost a decade after Google promised that the creed "Don't be evil" would guide its activities, the federal government is examining Google's acquisitions and actions as never before, looking for indications that the company's market power may be anticompetitive in the worlds of Web search and online advertising.

My first thought was, uh, Duh! Hello, anyone in high-tech not living under a rock knows the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have been putting the screws to Google hard since last year.

The FTC swatted aside Google's plan to partner with Yahoo in 2008, and the DOJ is trying to knock out Google Book Search. The FTC was just grudgingly shamed into letting Google's bid for AdMob pass muster.

Google is the new whipping boy (Facebook, next anyone) for misguided privacy and consumer advocates standing on soapboxes and calling Google the next Microsoft, or worse.

Google's capitalistic pool has hatched careerist mosquitoes, including advocates, lawyers and whiny rivals outgunned by a bigger company with better programmers.

As is the wont of politicians, who can't help themselves, these factions have tried Google as a monopolist in the court of public opinion even though the company has not been tried as such. Google gets sued a lot, but not for anything unusual by those who can't compete.

Google also gets sued a lot for accidentally infringing on users' privacy, a transgression I can forgive because it comes from smart programmers who live ignorantly in the bubble of the open Web and fail to realize that not everyone has nothing to hide.

There is no malice there; fix Google Buzz, can the WiFi collection and move on. Learn from those errors.

But I digress. Read the Times piece, where Microsoft antitrust slayer Gary Reback appears to be marshaling a case versus Google not just for Google Book Search as co-chair of the Open Book Alliance, but for anything he can hammer them for.

Reback recently introduced the founders of comparison shopping site Foundem to Congressional staff members and antitrust enforcers at the DOJ and FTC.

Their complaint, dating to February, is that Google's algorithms suddenly dropped Foundem into the netherworld of search results and that the company raised the rates Foundem had to pay to advertise on Google.

Foundem? I'm lost. Exactly, but that's the point Foundem wants to make, that Google rendered them obscure through monkeying with search. Good luck making the argument against the mathematically-generated algorithms.

To that end, Stone wrote:

Can monopolies exist online, when competition is only a click away? What constitutes anti-competitive behavior in the complex networked economy, where the very size of big companies allows them to operate more efficiently, and thus grow even bigger? Are consumers harmed if various services are bundled together, but everything is free?

Stone is asking the correct questions. I'm fairly certain that any lawyer will have trouble proving any antitrust cases where free services are offered and no contractual lock-in exists.

Google's technological paradigm with free search and Web services is such that it has outpaced current statutes and laws.

Companies such as Foundem like to claim that the Google Creep -- the company's seeping into every facet of the Internet -- is resulting in Google favoring its service over their own. Stone notes:

Rivals claim that this is self-serving, and that Google promotes its content even though there may be better material elsewhere.

Show me these better services. How do you define better? Are you arguing Google should be punished for creating a search engine 75 percent of the free world uses and using it to promote other free Web services that are pretty darn good.

Really? OK, let's see how that works in court. Sounds like a lot of hearsay, but what do I know? I'm no lawyer.

The funny thing is, this will be tried in court, on several fronts. I've been saying this for three years. Google is too big, broad (even over-reaching, hello Nexus One Webstore!) and successful for ambitious politicians to not target as a stepping stone for their careers.

Reback could make a career out of this. Microsoft in 2000. Google in 2010, and at the rate things are going, Facebook in 2015. If not sooner.

He's certainly right in noting Google "changed the rules." I think that's a good thing. The Web is much more dull without Google, Facebook and Apple going at each other on multiple fronts.

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