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back to article Why probe Google for antitrust? It 'does no evil'

For Eric Clemons, Google's oft-echoed claim that it doesn't believe in doing evil is reason enough to investigate the web-dominating search giant for antitrust violations. Clemons is a professor of operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania - a computer-science mind employed by …

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Headmaster

U.S. Anti-trust, a bust.

We, in the U.S., now almost entirely depend on the E.U., with all it's Byzantine rigmarole, to bring some sanity to the runaway world of corpo-conglomerate domination. I have little faith that it can stop it, but no faith at all in the two major U.S. parties in control who have been bought and paid for by those who should be regulated.

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Too much paid search...

A couple of times in the last couple of weeks I've ben trying to research some woodworking kit, and found it just about impossible to find the manufacturers' web site with real information. Google ws just been throwing up paid links, 99 dozen resellers with no information at all and link farms. It was a real struggle trying to get the real info. In one case I was stuck with guessing likely domain names rather than use search... And yes, I clicked on umpteen of those useless links in order to see if anyone was referencing the manufacturers web page, so google were mounting up the old clickthroughs...

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@ Jimc

Did you try using a search engine OTHER than google?

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Welcome

Blame elsewhere?

Perhaps if the manufacturers of the woodworking kit put a little more effort into designing and promoting their website it would be better able to float above the referential crap. I'm assuming you actually found a website in the end, right? They did actually have one?

Reality these days is: your website is your online storefront. Services like Google mean that you don't have to have the online equivalent of a Harvey Nichols or Harrods - style premiere site; you can do good business with the equivalent of a charity shop tucked between a greasy spoon and a carpet remnants store. Key thing is to get people to look in your window, and make it reasonably appealing. Your SEO provides the passing trade.

Sounds like your chisel shop have hidden themselves down a back alley and plastered their windows with signs advertising competitors. Not great marketing. They could use a welcome mat. ;)

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Big Brother

Maybe you need to take a course on how to properly search on the Internets

which I would be more than willing to provide to you for 5 easy payments of ....

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Grenade

Facts

I don't see the parallel here. Google is where it is at because it provides a service that most of us like, and most of the time the search hits are relevant to what we're looking for.

m$ got lucky around the time of dos because IBM were asleep. They've never looked back since and now we have pretty much every intel comaptible OEM box shipped with m$ pre-installed. Try getting your money back when you didn't want m$. Only recently have you started to get OEM boxes clear of shit. The simple fact of the matter is that m$ impose themselves on you one way or another.

Can the same be said of Google ? **NO**. You have a choice to use something else, and doing so will not fuck your computer up. Add to this that they've provided some fascinating applications like Google Earth for FREE, the generally excellent search results and the end user is getting a very good deal. If Google get good advertising revenue from providing this service then I would argue it is well earnt.

I can understand the query over the 'we can do no evil' statement, but I think it is perhaps supposed to mean 'we strive to do good'. You can't get it right every time.

The fact of the matter is that Google is not in a position to bully OEMs into installing a (sic) 'operating system' (oops I refer to windo$e). Google needs to be mindful of the fact that people use Google by *CHOICE* and not because they are forced to. They can far more easily stop using Google than they can windo$e.

So antitrust away but I really don't see why.

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More "facts"

"....Google is not in a position to bully OEMs into installing a (sic) 'operating system'...."

I think you'll find that they are well into the process of fixing that little oversight.

While Google are correct in their assertion that Search and Advertising are two different things, the relevant question here is not the nature of the beast, but whether their dominance in Search is being leveraged to produce a de facto monopoly for them in Advertising? I think the answer to this one is yes.

It's no different to owning a dominant O/S and gaming it to provide an advantage to your applications over your competitor's.

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@Homard

I think you completely failed to address the topic you were trying to address.

YOU have a choice to use Google or not. The antitrust discourse is not about YOU having a choice.

Google's customers are people for search, and companies for advertisting.

People have the choice to search somewhere else (and they don't). The antitrust topic was NOT about search.

Companies almost DO NOT have a choice to advertise (only) somewhere else. If they don't, they miss the majority of the consumers who will only see what's on Google.

Since COMPANIES mostly don't have a choice (though they can choose to advertise on google only or both on google and Microhoo), Google is a normal target for antitrust investigation, as far as Google's business in ADVERTISING is concerned.

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Paris Hilton

Hmmm, I wonder?

OMG - I hope the google does not go into obfuscating search results (well, there is always Bing. BTW I encountered a pleasant mash-up of Bing maps with Wikipedia details lively linked to the onscreen area of interest. It looked quite pleasant but unfortunately returned the wrong location with no alternative (try river calder in Bing - it returns a place rather than a river). Anyway, I digress ...

Remember when there quite a few search engines?

Most of these died of when obfuscation or paid for searches or some other funny stuff(s) started hence google's survival. Well that along with rather stunning search algorithms.

Didn't some of the alternative search engines even try to bind people in to contracts before committing a search? Then there were ISP search options. Never quite as good as the google and behold! where once were ISP search engines these eventually became "search with google" option and eventually just plain and straight forward "google"

[Note to self: am I really that old? Why, some sites even had "search this site with google". Incredible!]

I might be mistaken but google was the one search engine that was not going to give in to hosting ads or obfuscating results or requiring paid-for searches. It was free, it was good, it was free and good and stood to evolve where other went into evolutionary dead ends provided someone paid and that someone was the one that ended with a hit (?)

I believe that what the google does (and I hope not did) was to change from a pointwise result to a range of results. It is within that range of results that advertising might flourish provided of course that the pointwise (eg best hit) result always appears at the top of search results.

So, in a way, provided the google retains pointwise result with fidelity supplemented by a range of close approximates that do not obfuscate then the model would appear to be sound yes?

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Google envy?

There is only one pertinent question you need to ask:

Is the company in its current position because

A) it provides a great product,

or

B) because it uses its market dominance to prevent any competitors from gaining a foothold?

Google : A

Microsoft: B

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not so black and white

In the last year alone, 3 new search engines were announced (Cuil, Bing, Wolfram Alpha). None of these claimed to be ready for primetime, but the mere existence of a full-fledged google engine indexing billions of web pages and refreshing its information at an amazing rate I think has pretty much starved all of these engines, regardless of technical innovation. Although google can't be said to be actively using its market share to freeze out new competition in search, maybe that's because it doesn't need to due to its enormous scale. In the US we certainly have had companies that got too big being broken up regardless of any particular wrongdoing, but simply because their market position was too strong and stifled competition.

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market dominance

You say Microsoft are in their current position because they use market dominance to prevent competition.

That's very simplistic to say the least - how did Microsoft gain that position in the first place? They weren't magically created as a giant software behemoth with a monopoly from out of thin air you know.

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@Rob Moir

By selling someone else's OS and stifling competition illegally, of course.

Haven't you been paying attention?

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Stop

You're looking at it all wrong...

You like Google, but you're not the customer. You're the product.

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I hereby declare…

… that I will set no evil bits.

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Headmaster

Don't be evil

I should point out that Google's motto is "don't be evil" not "do no evil". A subtle but important difference.

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FAIL

Really?

"Don't be evil." Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But "Don't be evil" is much more than that. Yes, it's about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it's also about doing the right thing more generally -- following the law [WTF???], acting honorably and treating each other with respect.

http://investor.google.com/conduct.html

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@JohnA 1

I'm sorry to disagree with you; however this is not the question that needs be asked.

The question that needs be asked is "once a company achieves a dominant market position (by whatever means) what does it do with that dominant market position?"

The brilliance of Google was to create a series of absolutely excellent products, and a large amount of goodwill and amazing P.R. on its rise to the top. Now that it's at the top, it requires constant scrutiny to ensure that it doesn't abuse its position.

When a company has devoted followers, excellent P.R., and a history of good products...there is an enormous temptation to abuse that. When you're top of the heap, there is no requirement to innovate. Using your financial muscle or market share to buy or edge out a competitor is so much easier than competing with them. If someone is bad-mouthing you, you can turn your army of devoted followers at them and shout them down.

That the argument "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is an old argument does not make it invalid. I will attempt a slightly tangential approach to what is really an argument in the philosophy of “who should be allowed to exert what kind of power over others?”

Do you believe that a politician in a position of power should (at least in theory) be required to submit his decision making to public scrutiny? Should thier agreements and deals be subject to a modicum of transparency? Should there in fact exist processes to remove they prove corrupt? If you believe this to be so, then I submit to you that the same is true for any business (or even individual) who attains a large degree of power over a large number of people. (Most especially in cases where those individuals have little realistically viable alternate recourse.)

We are not talking about watching every move a teacher makes, or spying on the local post office here. We are talking about regulated transparency and accountability for corporations on the scale of national utilities, food-distribution chains, or in this case…the company that underpins most of what the entire world gets up to on the web. (Yes, other companies exist that sort of do what Google does, but at extremely reduced functionality.)

Thusly I submit that how Google achieved its market position is completely and utterly irrelevant. What matters is what it does with it.

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apples and oranges

Your politician example doesn't fit - Of course I want to know what a politician is doing - He is representing me. Google does not.

Just because a company has the ability to abuse its position is not grounds for an investigation.

Do you think you should be investigated for murder, robbery, rape and treason just because you are capable of them?

As soon as Google does something to warrant an investigation, then yes - by all means go through everything. Until then, stop trying to take them down just because they are big or because you have some sort of innate trust issues with anyone claiming to be good.

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@JohnA 1

"Do you think you should be investigated for murder, robbery, rape and treason just because you are capable of them?"

Certainly not! I am a firm believer in the presumption of innocence. I do however also believe in the authorities' right to investigate a people who appear to be connected to a crime.. If I was found to be at the scene of one, or in any other way under suspicion, the authorities have every right to except my full co-operation. As

I believe that Google's actions place the company under suspicion, especially as regards abuse of monopoly. I believe that the authorities should pop in and ask some pointed questions. Google, if it were not going to be evil, would co-operate fully. These investigations need not be public, or disclose company secrets to anyone except the authorities in question. (I would, for example, have no problems with the authorities taking a look at the Google adwords algorithm, but keeping the investigation sealed, as this is Google intellectual property that has every right to be protected.)

It is my contention that many of Google’s corporate practices are exceptionally questionable, some (but not all) of which are detailed quite thoroughly here at El Reg. I submit that they have abused both their Search and Ad Monopoly to extend into other markets and utterly irradiate customers there. (This by the way, is very much so a crime. Just as using your phone line monopoly to crush VoIP, or your Operating System monopoly to crush Office competitors is.) I won’t detail everything here (El Reg’s articles are a great introduction to Google’s many potential sins,) but I will specifically bring up Google and third-party created content.

Please pay particular attention to Google News, Google’s books-related endeavors, even to the incredible will with which Google fights against being forced to screen Google Video/Youtube/etc. for copyright violations. Taken together, the surface impression is one of Google using its monopoly position in several markets, (internet user-generated content distribution, search, advertising, etc.) to muscle content creators into doing what it wants, on it’s terms. It *may not be the case that this is true* but it is highly suspicious. The long term consequences to society as a whole if this is indeed Google’s plan are in fact so important that an investigation is called for. For Google’s sake, I hope it does turn out to be a case of “it looks worse than it is,” however Google shrouds so much in mystery that I can not know for sure their intentions or long term plans, and neither can you.

Their actions are highly suspicious, and may very well be in breach of laws. Just as though I were found at the scene of a murder, they are under suspicion. The authorities have every right to pursue one, and the public every right to demand one.

“As soon as Google does something to warrant an investigation, then yes - by all means go through everything. Until then, stop trying to take them down just because they are big or because you have some sort of innate trust issues with anyone claiming to be good”

I have to also dispute this statement. I claim to be good. I choose to associate myself only with those who think of themselves as “good.” I have had many a long philosophical discussion about whether or not “good” or “evil” even truly exist, and if they do, does it matter which side you are on, or if you choose to be neutral. I believe that some things exist which are “good” some things exist which are “evil” and most things are in a murkey grey area in between.

Yet I choose to be good, and I fundamentally understand why someone else would make the same choice. I don’t need to suspect someone because they make this claim, but I will start to suspect someone who makes this claim if their actions go counter to their words. As per above, I find several of Google’s actions suspicious, not only because they rub against my own personal view of what “do no evil” would entail, but also because I believe they have broken laws in the countries they reside in.

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What is the product, and who is the customer?

Googles product is not search.

The thing Google sell is advertising, so that is their product.

You are not the customer. The advertiser is the customer.

Are Google abusing their market dominance of their product area (online advertising/brokering/affliliate sales)?

Any regular Reg reader knows the answer and it looks a lot like evil.

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I would make me happy

If some agency would use its regulatory powers to smash the monolithic glass castle that is google. I am tired of hearing "just google it". They are not the only search engine, but everyone seems to think they are and I am tired of it.. Their adwords system is nothing short of extortion. You could be the owner of a registered trademark and still not show up in search if someone else paid more for the right keywords. That is wrong, and someone should use their lawyers to show them how wrong it is.

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Obvious Monopoly

Is any other major company providing "don't be evil" as its service? No. This is an obvious monopoly, and should be investigated. Next up: a cap-and-trade market for evil.

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Pint

@Craig Milo Rogers

Monopolies are not illegal. Leveraging your monopoly in one area to prevent competition in another is. If Google were to, for example, leverage it's monopoly on the "don't be evil" market to prevent others from being able to compete with it in the "evil" market, this would then be illegal.

Similarly, leveraging a monopolies on "warm, fuzzy and awesome free internet services etc." to prevent others from competing in areas like "advertising, content provisioning etc." would also be illegal.

Just having a monopoly on not being evil isn’t of itself worth an investigation.

(Disregarding the sarcasm in your post, if we were to accept the concept of Google or its founders having a “monopoly on not being evil,” the investigation required would not be a legal one. Instead an investigation into the fabric of our society would be called for, as the concept of a select few individuals or a corporation having a monopoly on "not being evil" would be an unbelievably depressing statement about our world. Ah, but the philosophical musing possible when you start pondering that make me…oh look, pub o’clock…)

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Linux

All that is needed is

a company to produce another search engine that is as good as, or better than Google and Google will no longer be an alleged monopoly.

It is interesting that the word "Google" gets the red line treatment from the spell checker on this site.

Google is now an accepted word in the English language , both as a noun and as a verb.

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