Why Gary Reback Sees Google as the New Antitrust Antichrist

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-01-25 Print this article Print

After helping the Justice Department exorcise the demon that was Microsoft more than a decade ago, attorney Gary Reback is preaching about why he sees Google as the new antitrust antichrist.

It's a tasty tongue-twister to be sure, but it's a serious matter.

Reback, a partner at law firm Carr & Ferrell LLP, shared some great insights about how Google, with its delightifully devilish 66.6 percent U.S. search market share, is impeding the long tail of vertical search engines in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is a must-read for anyone who cares about whether Google is abusing its massive market power as the world's leading search engine.

Some background. The European Commission is aggressively investigating whether Google is deliberately dragging down the search rankings in favor of its own vertical-search services.

Some anti-Google parties have been making noise about this for years in the U.S. to no avail, but this is no longer the case. Now Google is facing staunch opposition to its $700 million bid for ITA Software from online travel companies that fear it will stomp them out if it makes the buy. The DOJ is scrutinizing this deal to see if antitrust claims have merit.

More than a decade after helping the Justice Department nail Microsoft for bundling its products with Windows, Reback believes these companies are onto something and made his point eloquently to the Chronicle, which noted it's "an open secret that he's airing Google-related grievances around the halls of power in Washington, and at the European Union headquarters in Brussels."

Reback notes that while several travel, local search and product-comparison search engines tried to gain traction on Google.com, Google built its own rival services. He noted:

There were reports of Google penalizing those nascent competitors, of Google giving preference to its own sites that competed.

Anti-Google critics are making too big a deal about this. Let's put this in perspective. Google creates a search engine. Other search engines gladly piggbyback on Google but then throw a fit when Google decides to offer similar services.

There are claims that Google is abusing search neutrality. Unfortunately, there is no law enforcing search neutrality, which is ostensibly a gentleman's agreement not to show preference. Moreover, Google isn't locking people in to search its Website.

I'm not certain any legal entity can challenge Google over this, but Reback is building his case on it.

He also said, the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission tussled over who gets to tackle Google for these issues. The DOJ is mounting the ITA assault, so it makes sense it would stay the course and gun for Google's other alleged monopoly-building services.

Here's another good one:

At least theoretically, there's nothing wrong or improper in Google going into another business. But if you're going to go into one of these businesses, you shouldn't use the dominant power of the dominant platform to give yourself an advantage.

Uh, that's how Google works. No one will know about its newer services if Google doesn't tout them on its search pages and portals.

Again, it seems to me Google is a victim of its own success, but unless you can show me that it is putting dozens of companies out of business by touting its own services higher on Google.com, I don't have a problem with Google showing, say Google Places, higher than Yelp, or a YouTube video higher than, well, the video startup du jour.

Google has been good for my information-gathering purposes. I trust Google's services to give me what I need, so yes, I'd prefer if its services were easier for me to find than those of Startup X. For anything else, I go to Facebook, Quora or Foursquare.

Of course, if you're not up for the whole Google Borg thing, or if you're not in accordance with what Google is selling, you're not going to feel the same way.

I respect that. I won't say the competition is a click away; that's what Google says. But it's true.

Bing will be quite happy to take your clicks, and don't think Bing doesn't tout it's other services. It's just that no one cares because the company has 12 percent market share.

Postscript: Read this by Google search quality expert Matt Cutts to decide if you want to learn more on the search neutrality subject.

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