Just how big has Google become? That almost seems like a silly question in 2019. The company is omnipresent. If you own an Android phone and want to ask a question, you don’t address “Siri” or “Cortana.” You say, “Okay, Google.” The name of the company has become a verb. Most of us don’t talk about doing a web search. We say, “let me Google that.” When asking for the location of a particular place, Google Maps is the go-to answer.
So have they gotten “too big” for their own good? Perhaps. The Department of Justice is opening another investigation to see if the company is in violation of anti-trust laws. And if they are, they could conceivably be broken up just like Bell Telephone was back in the day. (Associated Press)
The U.S. Justice Department is readying an investigation of Google’s business practices and whether they violate antitrust law, according to news reports.
The search giant was fined a record $2.72 billion by European regulators in 2017 for abusing its dominance of the online search market. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission made an antitrust investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action.
Now the Justice Department has undertaken an antitrust probe of the company’s search and other businesses, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Bloomberg News. They cited unnamed people familiar with the matter.
So is Google a monopoly or not? The EU clearly thinks so, having fined them billions of dollars. But let’s keep in mind that the current European Union is pretty much the epitome of Big Brother governance. We’ve seen pro and con arguments over Google’s monopolistic traits for years now. Back in 2017, Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week, made the argument that Google was most certainly a monopoly and needed to be broken up. But nearly the entirety of Cooper’s argument consisted of saying that Google’s success was unearned since they only grew massively because they were in the right place at the right time. Even if we accept this argument, to the best of my knowledge there is still no law against being lucky.
Conversely, James Pethokoukis made the argument last year that there is absolutely zero evidence that Google is a monopoly. He bases this conclusion on the belief that Google fears competition and spends “tens and hundreds of billions of dollars a year on R&D.” He also notes that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that the company’s operations are bad for consumers.
It seems to me that there are three possibilities to consider. First, does Google control infrastructure that allows them to shut out possible competition the way Bell did through owning all of the phone lines? No, they don’t. You can delete your bookmarks to Google any time you like and use Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine you prefer.
Another question is whether or not Google is squashing the competition by preventing them from doing business. They do buy an awful lot of companies, but I’ve yet to see one market segment where they don’t have competitors available. In fact, some of their efforts have failed spectacularly. You may recall how they tried to break into the social media market by launching Google Plus. That landed with a thud and they stopped supporting the service a while back.
All that leaves us with is the possibility that Google grew so large because they simply offer a family of products that people like to use. And yes, perhaps they benefitted from a bit of luck in the beginning. But neither of those concepts are particularly nefarious.
Don’t get me wrong. Google is most certainly up to all sorts of shady things. From selling off all of your data to the highest bidder and tracking your every move, there’s plenty to complain about. They largely avoid legal problems in the United States because Google relies on the fact that most of the people in the government who are assigned to investigate them probably couldn’t tell you much more about how the internet operates beyond saying that it’s like a large series of tubes. But I’m not yet convinced that they’re operating in violation of anti-trust laws or need Uncle Sam to dismantle them.