It was revealed this week that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun an antitrust investigation of Google business practices. Whether or not Google is guilty of unfair practices or not, the very fact that antitrust assertions are being made is a sign of success. Congratulations Google! You’ve officially made it to the big time.
When you’re a scrappy startup doing what it takes to claw your way into a market, nobody pays much attention because the odds are fair that you won’t be around two years from now. It is hard to impose unfair business practices, or exert undue influence over an industry when nobody knows who you are and you don’t actually have any influence.
Google began its existence as the ‘anti-Microsoft’–a young, scrappy newcomer with a simple mantra to ‘do no evil’ and a business model built primarily around just not being like Microsoft. Fast forward thirteen years, and Google is a globally-recognized tech giant synonymous with Web search and online advertising. It still maintains a quixotic drive to do battle with Microsoft, but the student has become the teacher, and Google has evolved into the very thing it set out to defeat.
Google’s success is a catch-22; a self-feeding vicious circle. In its quest to provide accurate, relevant information as quickly as possible, it has established an empire of online resources. Google has gone so far as to develop its own Web browser, its own mobile operating system, and its own operating system all in an effort to streamline the use and functionality of the Web. The growth and dominance of those resources is a testament to Google’s success.
The very fact that any rival would accuse Google of unfair practices, or that any consumer would assert that Google is wielding its dominance in ways that stifle fair competition is a bit like a badge of honor that indicates some measure of success. Google joins the ranks of Microsoft, Intel, the original AT&T, IBM, and Apple as tech giants that have gotten so big they are the victims of their own success.
Apple recently experience a similarly dubious ‘honor’ with the rash of malware attacks against Mac OS X. Malware developers don’t want to waste resources developing attacks for platforms with such small market share that even a successful attack would yield little result. The very fact that cyber crooks are paying any attention to Mac OS X at all indicates that Apple has reached some critical mass of market share that makes it a worthwhile target.
Google is in for a long, hard battle. But, when all is said and done, it can wear its FTC antitrust scars with pride, and pat itself on the back for reaching the elite ranks of the monopolistic entities it set out to topple.