Search king too big to ignore
Though vague on solutions, federal antitrust lawyers are clear about one thing: Google is too big a monopoly to ignore any longer. The tech colossus is so dominant in so many ways that it needs heavy duty regulation to protect consumers.
Just as blunt is the search king’s response. Its competitors, however dinky, are just a finger tap away, the company says. ExCEO Eric Schmidt adds: “There’s a difference between dominance and excellence.”
Let the fighting begin in this era’s monster tech and regulatory battle. The dispute is expected to run for years, powered by Google parent Alphabet’s deep pockets and the drawn out nature of antitrust litigation.
The charges announced last week represent something else: an emphatic end to both Washington’s and the public’s love affair with the brash overlords of the internet, which has morphed far beyond its early days.
Spawned in Peninsula apartment by two Stanford grad students, Google is now valued at over $ 1 trillion. That dazzling success has now become a liability as trustbusting attorneys take aim at its overwhelming scale and prominence.
It’s hard to understate the significance of the move by the Department of Justice. Once a generation, it seems, the federal machinery goes after a major target, dating to Standard Oil more than a century ago to Microsoft two decades back. The results can produce major changes to foster competition in key industries.
Just as notable is the hallelujah chorus greeting the Google charges.
Liberal Democrats and populist Republicans are saluting the legal action. Not to be outdone, two groups of state attorneys general are leveling similar charges at the company with their own suit For now, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra isn’t taking part in the onslaught at his home state firm.
Anyone with a laptop or smartphone has a stake in this dispute. What was once a nimble and useful way to search the web has turned into an empire that ropes in advertising, video streaming, extended business ties and hardware ranging from handsets to thermostats. Google mines user habits to curry favor with advertisers. Its Android system is the most used operating software on smartphones.
A majority of Americans along with the rest of the world spend hours every day on Google highways and platforms. “Look it up” once meant going to the dictionary. Now it’s punching up Google. There’s another human factor contained in the charges. Consumers may be disadvantaged, but they may not know it. Google search remains free to a casual user even if the company taps that action for other uses.
Google lawyers are ridiculing the charges as “deeply flawed.” No one is being forced into the company’s arms and alternatives exist. The firm’s great crime is to be good at what it is, defenders argue. Yes, it pays to include its services on phone screens such as Apple’s, but that’s not much different than a cereal maker renting out eye level space on a supermarket shelf. Anyone can do it and options exist, goes the argument.
But federal officials have a powerful comeback. None of Google’s rivals has much of a market. Does anyone really use Bing? TikTok is the flavor of the day, but it’s nothing close to YouTube, another arm of the Googledominated Alphabet empire.
With so much at stake, this antitrust battle will probably last years. That could take the fight well past the Trump administration that is bringing the present charges. In fact, the widespread doubts about Big Tech’s super firms including Facebook, Apple and Amazon led a bipartisan congressional panel last month to call for a crackdown similar in tone to this one. A furious election season is producing sharp initiatives directed at oncefavored firms.
Solutions aren’t on the table yet. In filing the charges, the Justice Department stuck with a depiction of Google’s size and power to limit competition. It didn’t spell out any answers. But already there are predicted solutions such as spinning off YouTube or severing financial links with the likes of Apple. Those steps will come only if the legal challenge prevails.
Google has become a vital tool, ready source of entertainment and educational and cultural mainstay. It’s also a near addiction, penetrating every corner of consumer, business and governmental life. Its next challenge will be justifying that success. Washington is right to question a near monopoly that’s collected such broad power.