Antitrust Accusations: Google is the New Microsoft
By Tony Bradley
Google is being challenged on multiple continents with accusations of monopolistic intentions and unfair business practices. The one-time scrappy start-up has become a monolith in its own right, and now finds itself under the same antitrust scrutiny it once supported against its arch-rival Microsoft.
The European Union has agreed to investigate claims by Google competitors that its overwhelmingly dominant stake in both online search, and online search advertising gives it an unfair advantage over rivals in either industry.
In a post titled “Committed to Competing Fairly“, Google states on its blog “As Google has grown, we’ve not surprisingly faced more questions about our role in the advertising ecosystem and our overall approach to competition. This kind of scrutiny goes with the territory when you are a large company. However, we’ve always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way–through technological innovation and great products, rather than by locking in our users or advertisers, or creating artificial barriers to entry. “
Google has built its empire around the motto “Don’t Be Evil”–ostensibly a jab at Microsoft and other tech giants. Essentially, Google’s goal with the “Don’t Be Evil” mantra was to try to prevent it from becoming just another short-sighted behemoth, putting short-term profit ahead of company reputation and brand image.
The corporate culture fostered by that motto instills a sense of honesty and fair play, as well as a deep-seated concern for the impact on Google itself, of any business decisions Google makes. Customers, partners, and Google employees have all established a level of trust with Google based on the “Do No Evil” motto.
However, Google may have reached some sort of critical mass making it too big to live up to that mantra no matter how well intended. Recent backlash over the Nexus One, and Google Buzz, combined with the antitrust accusations, make Google seem more like a mirror-image of Microsoft than a rival.
It’s possible that Google is simply a victim of its own success–like an indy rock band that achieves popular success and is then perceived by fans as a commercial sellout. What is the alternative? Actively avoiding success to ensure it doesn’t get too many customers or make too much money?
Google’s response to the antitrust accusations is “While we will be providing feedback and additional information on these complaints, we are confident that our business operates in the interests of users and partners, as well as in line with European competition law.”
The reality is that all of the above can be true to some degree. Google can operate within the bounds of European competition law, and also strive to not be evil, while its monumental success and dominant stake in the markets it operates in can sway the industry in such a way that competition is stifled, or virtually impossible.
Regardless of how Google got from scrappy startup to antitrust behemoth, people around Redmond are probably stepping a little lighter and breathing a little easier these days. It turns out that Google, the self-proclaimed nemesis of Microsoft and purveyor of all things “not evil”, has actually done more to transform itself into Microsoft than it has to knock Microsoft off its pedestal.