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.
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.