A 160-page document prepared by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2012 and leaked to The Wall Street Journal confirms a suspicion many of us have held for some time now: Google makes predatory use of its monopoly, providing search results aimed at damaging its competitors. What’s more, the FTC, instead of following the recommendations of its own staff to take legal action against the company, decided to do nothing other than imposing a few sanctions. In other words, it did nothing.
The leaked document shows that Google clearly to be guilty of all the practices of which it has been accused in recent years: scraping, or extracting information from competitors by taking advantage of its privileged position as the search engine used by competitors to open their content, artificially placing competitors’ results lower down in search results, putting its own services in more visible positions. These activities not only harmed its competitors to Google’s own benefit, but also failed its users by not offering search results based on relevance.
More alarming still is that with all this information in its possession, the FTC decided not to take action. It no longer matters if this was because of the company’s huge investment in lobbyists or its links to senior politicians, the point is that Google not only lied about its mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” betraying its company philosophy of “don’t be evil”, but it has pretty much got away with it, both in the United States and Europe. As far as Google is concerned there are no rules when it comes to competition.
At this stage in the game, it is impossible to compete with Google. If you try to set up some web-based service and are moderately successful, your growth will attract its attention and soon after it will create a similar service, if necessary using information extracted from your own pages — pages that you can do nothing to prevent it from seeing, because that would mean not appearing in its search results, which would make you invisible, an act of “SEOcide”. Google has been pursuing this strategy shamelessly for several years, simply by denying so, however obvious its wrongdoing was.
And when it started to be aware that it faced action from the authorities, it changed its strategy to simply buying competitors: the purchase of Zagat looks like a classic case of trying to show that it had access to its own data and wasn’t simply copying and reusing those of its competitors. Furthermore, not content with arbitrarily altering search results to its own benefit to the detriment of its competitors, the company has successfully protected itself from legal action by persuading US courts that its pages should be protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution as a publication, effectively allowing Google to alter them as it sees fit.
Google is a company that has changed the way we access information, the way we work, and many other aspects of modern life. Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s idea of applying social criteria to online searches, based on the academic world’s citation index has transformed the world. At the same time, Google has beaten Microsoft’s record, which needed a quarter of a century to become a predatory monopoly: Google has achieved this status in not much more than half that time.
This is worrying if we consider that this dubious honor had previously been held by IBM, which managed to avoid sanctions for predatory monopoly for around half a century, or worse, AT&T, which managed to hold on to its position for a century. The fact that predatory monopolies can be created and exploited with ever-greater speed can only mean one thing: consumers need more protection than ever.
(En español, aquí)