Doesn't the FTC have anything better to do than go after Google? [Video]

Doesn't the FTC have anything better to do than go after Google? [Video]

Summary: It looks like the FTC is poised to finally do more than posture around Google's alleged anti-competitive practices. In a roundtable discussion Friday, I argued that this is really just a colossal waste of taxpayer money.

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TOPICS: Google, Government
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I ended last week with a flu shot, a broken window on my car, and an appearance on a HuffPostLive roundtable about the FTC's likely antitrust action against Google. The first two weren't the highlights of my day, but the conversation (video embedded below) was interesting, to say the least.

As ZDNet's Zack Whittaker reported last week, referencing a well-publicized Reuters story,

The U.S. government's trade regulator may be preparing the investigation to start as soon as November or December, as European regulators continue to simultaneously probe the search giant for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the search market.

It's actually surprising that the FTC has taken this long to move against Google. Eric Schmidt has repeatedly pointed out that Google's growth and influence make it a target for regulators and the EU certainly hasn't been shy about going after the company. This isn't to say that the FTC should take action against Google. On the contrary. The FTC's evidence is sketchy and, in particular, the idea that Google is using its search dominance to hurt competitors is just so touchy-feely that it feels silly. When you dominate a market because that same market has chosen you over your competitors, it doesn't magically become time to start throwing bones to those competitors. It's like giving every little kid in a sporting event a ribbon because everyone's a winner, gosh darnit.

Nonsense. There are lots of losers out there in the real world. Right now, nobody can touch the ease of use, powerful analytic tools, reach, or cost-effectiveness of Google's AdWords and AdSense products. I've been responsible for placing hundreds of thousands of dollars of ads on Google's networks as well as on those of their competitors. There is simply no comparison.

And does Google promote its own vertical search results over those of its competitors? Maybe. You're using Google to search for the best Chinese food in Midtown Manhattan. Wouldn't you expect Google's Zagat-driven reviews to surface ahead of Yelp's? If you don't, then not only are you naive, but you forget that since Google wrote the algorithms that pick up search engine-optimized sites, the sites with which they're involved will probably have pretty decent SEO. Go figure.

The real story here, though, is that nobody cares except Google's competitors. One of the loudest voices urging the FTC to hit Google is FairSearch.org, a group funded in large part by Microsoft. I'd urge the members of FairSearch to try and place a banner ad for a reasonable price on the Bing/Microsoft ad network and then do the same on AdWords. I think a few of the folks handling marketing for FairSearch just might change their tunes.

Have we learned nothing over the years about government intervention in monopolies? Things have gone so well with the Baby Bells...why not give it another shot, right?

Instead, why doesn't the FTC save the taxpayer dollars it will invest in efforts to prosecute Google for what may or may not be anti-competitive practices and just let the market sort this out? It's only a matter of time before some new startup finds a way to disrupt search and related advertising. Amazon and Facebook aren't exactly sitting on the sidelines in all of this either and both, as examples, have incredibly powerful assets with which Google is struggling to compete. When you need to buy a case for that new iPhone, do you Google "iPhone cases" or just go right to Amazon and search there? I'm willing to bet that the majority of you cut out the middleman and search on Amazon. I know I do.

If the market could talk, it would happily say, "I got this." The Internet and the business models around it are moving a lot faster than the FTC ever will.

Topics: Google, Government

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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8 comments
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  • We aren't stupid. Don't treat us as such please!

    People will decide if Google survives or not, not the FTC. Microsoft had 90+ of the Office market and yet it is now dwindling. Same goes for Microsoft's Internet Explorer etc.

    I understand some would like to "protect" the public from monopolies, but on the net, we the people have the power. Just as we switched from Alta Vista to other search engines, so we can switch from Google and its services.

    So spend the money and resources on more worthwhile investigations like the monopolies of the banking industry etc.
    Frondeskias
  • You can't be serious

    I am a Canadian citizen and even me are aware that of the The Federal Antitrust Acts. Google has become too big and too resourceful to allow a free search engine market. And because of the impact of search engines in our world, Google cannot be let alone. I am a Google search user but I’d rather see a market where Bing would have 25 or 30 % of the market. Competition is good. Competition is what makes things go forward. It is what regulates companies even more efficiently than laws.

    M$ was seriously slowed down a few years ago and that is what allowed Open source, Google and other to sneak in. Google is way too dominant right now. We don’t see it because their services are useful and unmatched by others (Google search, Google Maps) buy the folks that wrote the constitution were right.
    gbouchard99
    • So punish the company that provides services that r "useful and unmatched"?

      You say they are unmatched yourself, but you want them to be limited and punished for it? Nobody is forcing anyone to use Google's services or products. Every website has the right to put their services/results first, it's their website after all.
      JoeNM84
    • aye aye aye...

      By your line of reasoning, then Apple should be shut down or penalized, right? Since they are hugely popular & successful & have clearly colluded to fox the prices of ebooks & other media formats. As a consumer, I want the right to choose who gets my business & the government should have nothing to say about that unless their are serious laws broken. This action is NOT consumer driven, no, to the contrary, it is competitors asking for Google to be penalized because they took the time & spent the money to build the infrastructure & tools that made them easier to use & gave them a competitive advantage. At least when it comes to Google, you have alternative choices, maybe they aren't as good as Google, but that's not Google's fault. Google is not responsible for making sure their competitors survive a weak market with their inferior products. It's not like with the cable companies, where they have whole sections of countries under lock & key. It is the internet, where anyone can buy servers, hire programmers & instantly begin competing for market share from nearly anywhere in the world. The opportunity for competition is there & as long as it exists, the U.S. & E.U. should go about the business of finding ways to stop wasting money, not look for new ways to persecute successful companies in a worldwide weak economy.
      George Leon
    • Competition

      But remember that it was competition that got Google to this point in the first place, and Google still faces stiff competition. The reason Google has such a large portion of the market is simply because they are the best.

      You say you would like to see 25-30% of users on Bing. How would you suggest the FTC accomplish this feat? The only way Bing will get a larger percentage of the search market is if Bing becomes a better search engine or if Google becomes a worse search engine. The problem is the FTC only has the ability to make the later happen.
      Ajedi32
  • Seriously?

    Everyone needs to leave Google alone at this point and the government needs to concern themselves more with monopolies like Luxoticca. I mean have you tried to buy a pair of glasses lately? They are so expensive because they are just about ALL owned by the same company....
    peasoupeyes
    • Nah...

      Luxottica makes frames for glasses. There are other options, like knock-offs or contact lenses. I am more concerned with the cable companies. Internet service providers & media broadcast providers are serving up something that everyone should be able to consume at competitive rates. In my neighborhood, there is ONE choice for internet & media content, Time Warner. They are outrageously priced & every six months they raise their rates even higher. They also are allowed to get away with changing their content line up after I contract them for services without adjusting my bill.
      George Leon
  • Don't look there, look over here.

    So it's anti-competitive to place your ads above your competitors? Why aren’t they after companies like Verizon and AT&T who are outright blocking apps on the network so that you have to use theirs? Google Wallet being the best example, First block the app on your network then run out and build your own.
    Jonathan Haas