Consumer Watchdog Barks “Break Up Google!”
On the one side are the people who use Google every day and for many reasons. Many times these people can get upset because their reliance on Google can cause a major hiccup (go see what Chris Brogan has to say today about this) For the most part, they have come to depend on Google to help run many aspects of their business and personal lives and are happier for it. I fall into that category for sure.
The other side is the smaller group in size but has some major clout. They are consumer advocacy groups and their major supporters: Google competitors and those who have perceived they are being scorned by the search giant. This group held a press conference yesterday which highlighted the call by the group Consumer Watchdog for the Department of Justice to takes seriously the cries of antitrust activities by Google.
Consumer Watchdog, along with a mobile entrepreneur and two lawyers representing Google rivals, all called on the DOJ to initiate an antitrust investigation focusing on a number of issues, including Google’s marriage of search results to advertising and its book search service.
“The time has clearly come for Justice to launch a major, broad antitrust investigation against Google, and we think all remedies should be on the table, including, we think, the possible breakup of the Internet giant,” said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. The 25-year-old organization focuses on a number of consumer issues, including health care, insurance and energy, but the group’s move into tech issues in recent years has largely focused on criticisms of Google.
Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the DOJ Wednesday asking that the agency investigate Google for antitrust violations. “For most Americans — indeed, for most people in the world — Google is the gateway to the Internet,” the letter said. “How it tweaks its proprietary search algorithms can ensure a business’ success or doom it to failure.”
Now, will a claim like this have any real legs? Since I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV AND I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night I can confidently say that I don’t know. I can say this though. This kind of “chatter” in the marketplace keeps it in the backs of peoples’ minds and starts to cast a different light on the target which in this case is Google. Just ask Microsoft how it feels to be painted as the company that blocked competition and free trade. That label taints everything they do and it likely limits their efforts into other areas like search. How? Mainly because the ABM (Anyone But Microsoft) sentiment is powerful.
Of course, the main edge that Google has over someone like a Microsoft is that people are mostly happy with their products and services. Microsoft? Well, not so much.
So how does Google see these calls to action by advocacy groups and smaller rivals (in this case myTriggers.com and TradeComet.com)? With the usual Google panache by saying
Adam Kovacevich, senior manager for global communications and public affairs at Google, discounted the criticisms, saying Consumer Watchdog has been “relentlessly negative” about Google. The group recently questioned the reasons why Google stopped censoring search results in China and criticized Google’s privacy Dashboard as inadequate, Kovacevich said.
“We totally understand that with size and success comes scrutiny,” he added. “Although given their track record, even if we broke Google in half tomorrow, Consumer Watchdog would probably insist that we split halves into quarters.”
I suspect this type of request for Google to be “taken apart” won’t go away. Whenever I see reports like this I usually dismiss them but I do wonder if there is any merit to the claims. Heck, I don’t know everything that goes on in the online world. Maybe Google is doing back alley roughing up of competitors. Honestly, I doubt it very much.
I think the real “problem” is that Google created the perfect tool for the perfect time just as a complete shift in the way that everyone does everything was happening. As a result, their dominance comes almost by default because the wave they caught was unlike one ever seen in history. Timing is everything they say. Doesn’t mean they are bullet proof though.
So what say you today about Google’s “unfair advantage”? Real or perceived? Worthy of Department of Justice attention or not? Do you care either way as long as your Google services work and you do what you need to do?