Congress allowed other online companies to complain about Google’s dominance in the world of “search” at a this week. The online industry makes its money off advertizing, particularly from companies that sell things. But Google owns some of those companies, and the others, have been accusing the Palo Alto giant of helping to highlight the companies they own over the ones they do not. So, why should we care about all this?
Jeff Katz of Nextag and Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp testified, arguing that because of Google’s popular Map application it shows where Google’s companies are while other companies like theirs are left off. There was also testimony where charts were used that accused Google of helping to promote the companies they owned even if they were not very popular. If the hearing did not turn out to be such a show, like they usually are, serious issues could have arisen from having these major players all in once space. Katz and Stoppleman are upset that their companies are not getting as much exposure as others, thus leading to less sales. Do they have a point? Maybe.
Google is by far the most dominant search engine in the U.S., mainly because it has been much more innovative than others who try and compete with it (I’m looking at you Bing). They created maps, translate, images, and of course everyone likes the clever ways they sometimes change their logo. As a privately owned company, Google has the right to promote which products and websites they want. One of the scuttles that occurred during the hearing was when other companies accused Google of not promoting its site even when it paid for the advertisement. Google said the ad was not used as much because of the quality of the company’s website was poor, and they use other factors which sites to put higher on its results. This also comes on the heels of Google being accused of charging higher prices for advertisements from companies they do not own, and being investigated to see if they have violated any antitrust laws.
By why should anyone outside of Palo Alto care about this issue? Well, if you want competitive prices online (which drive costs down for consumers), having one search engine deciding where you should shop is not a good thing. Particularly when it is becoming more and more common for people to shop online, they need options. Instead of people going to their local store or similar ones to compare prices, they are looking for deals on the internet using Google.
There is also a general fear of one company having control over all the online content that people look at or find. As the internet becomes the way more and more people make a living, we need to make sure the information we find on it is not only easy but unbiased. The last thing people should want to happen is where we are searching on Google for information on the medicine we need, and the only sites that come up are the ones owned by Google. Not to mention it could hurt future job prospects because small companies or start ups would be harder to foster.
Google’s executives argued many times that if people do not want to use Google as their search engine, they have other options. Other sites like Bing and Yahoo give you the same results as Google, but they are not used as much because their branding methods have not been as effective. Yahoo does not have as good of an email system, and Bing’s Maps aren’t nearly as functional as Google’s. Once you are in the Google bubble you trust it and see no reason to leave. Apple has done the same thing with its products and created a large following, like Google, because of it.
Google is a company, and like all companies they exist to make money. There is nothing wrong with that. They have made investments to reach into other areas expanding its reach and successfully became a global powerhouse. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are much more likely to praise Google as being a great American company rather than claiming they are abusing its users. When similar antitrust investigations took place involving Microsoft the problem wasn’t the services but the way they were providing it. They got hit harder in the public arena because people running the company (cough! Bill Gates cough!) couldn’t keep their mouth shut. The same thing happened with Intel, but last time I checked both companies were doing alright.
So far all we learned from the investigations and hearings is that Google is something to keep an eye on. The government needs to keep watching the hedge fund managers on Wall Street, and inspecting our food imports, with the same caution to make sure the American people don’t get tangled in Google.