On October 20, the Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a long overdue antitrust lawsuit against search engine giant Google.
According to a DoJ press release, “As one of the wealthiest companies on the planet with a market value of $1 trillion, Google is the monopoly gatekeeper to the internet for billions of users and countless advertisers worldwide. For years, Google has accounted for almost 90 percent of all search queries in the United States and has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising.”
Google was founded in 1998, when internet search engines were just getting their feet planted. Back then, now-defunct websites such as Ask Jeeves, Lycos, and Infoseek were the big players in the rough-and-tumble world of the internet search engine.
Yet, in just over two decades, Google has trounced its would-be competitors and now reigns supreme. It is difficult to fathom that 90 percent of internet searches performed in the United States are executed via Google. No wonder “google” has become a verb in our modern lexicon.
However, the sheer dominance of Google when it comes to accessing information on the internet is cause for concern.
As Attorney General Bill Barr said, “Today, millions of Americans rely on the Internet and online platforms for their daily lives. Competition in this industry is vitally important, which is why today’s challenge against Google — the gatekeeper of the Internet — for violating antitrust laws is a monumental case both for the Department of Justice and for the American people.”
Barr is correct, this is a big deal for the American people. For far too long, “We the people” have allowed Google to attain way too much power and influence over American society.
By controlling 90 percent of the internet search market, we are at the mercy of Google’s secret algorithms when it comes to accessing and attaining information. No single company should have the power that Google currently wields over the dissemination of information.
Moreover, according to the lawsuit, Google has not become the search engine Goliath through free and fair competition. Actually, Google has gained and entrenched its power by disobeying the law.
“As alleged in the Complaint, Google has entered into a series of exclusionary agreements that collectively lock up the primary avenues through which users access search engines, and thus the internet, by requiring that Google be set as the preset default general search engine on billions of mobile devices and computers worldwide and, in many cases, prohibiting preinstallation of a competitor… These and other anticompetitive practices harm competition and consumers, reducing the ability of innovative new companies to develop, compete, and discipline Google’s behavior.”
In other words, for the vast majority of devices that connect one to the internet, Google is the one and only option for searching and surfing the web. That is not a good thing, by definition.
The crux of the matter, according to DoJ, is that, “Google’s anticompetitive practices have had harmful effects on competition and consumers… By restricting competition in search, Google’s conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of search (including on dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in search, and impeding innovation. By suppressing competition in advertising, Google has the power to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market and to reduce the quality of the services it provides them.”
This is where the rubber meets the road. By completely dominating the search engine sector, Google effectively dominates the distribution of information.
The consequences of one company controlling access to and dissemination of information on the internet, where the vast majority of Americans go to get information, is downright scary. It poses a dire threat to freedom.
Unlike the so-called monopolies of the Gilded Age, the monopoly power over information, as wielded by Google, is far more dangerous.
Never in the history of this nation, has one company come close to exercising the power and influence that Google currently exerts. Google’s gatekeeping to and guardianship of the infinite information available on the information superhighway must end.
Chris Talgo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.