back to article On 20th anniversary of Microsoft antitrust, US Treasury Sec calls for Google monopoly probe

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has added his voice to a growing number of government officials calling for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice …

  1. handleoclast Silver badge
    Coat

    I wonder

    How many people would have to use google to find an alternative search engine?

    How many people would even know that alternative search engines exist?

    How many people know there are alternatives to Windows?

    Are oranges the only fruit?

    1. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

      Re: I wonder

      I think a lot of people would have a hard time with what a search engine actually is. They type on what they want, it comes back to them, and anything else isn't really relevant for most uses. Getting into the concept of what more is going on there isn't relevant to them.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        Also if you are already on Google, you are not that likely to see news of new wonderful caring search engines that often.

        I couldn't really point to evidence but my feeling is that Google also weights it's political content in searches and it's attitude to alternative reporting is skewed more and more, possibly based on which reporting is more favourable to it.

    2. TheVogon Silver badge

      Re: I wonder

      This is how the EU will are planning to reduce their budget deficit now that they won't be subsided by the UK in the near future...

  2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Mushroom

    So if I try to Google "Problems with Google" or "Google monopoly"....

    Will my computer explode? Will I just be permanently disconnected from the internet? (Hmmm, except for missing El Reg and the occasional cat video, that last one might not be so bad.)

    1. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: So if I try to Google "Problems with Google" or "Google monopoly"....

      No!! Never, EVER try to Google 'Google'!!

      You could break the internet!!

  3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I'm glad that Google is being looked at, but this is in large part political payback.

    Silicon Valley likes to openly support the Dems and oppose Republicans, and now the bill is coming due. I'd feel bad, but the idea that these internet platforms have become so powerful that they can basically define/constrain your reality is definitely pretty creepy and worth some serious scrutiny.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: I'm glad that Google is being looked at, but this is in large part political payback.

      Yet enormous political pressure is applied to search engines, which (not without merit) nearly always are labeled "Google" to restrict search output by limiting return of "terrorist" or "old or irrelevant" (for example) results.

      Next to no demands are made for Google and other web search portals to simply return a list of results ordered by some reasonable definition of applicability to the input query.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        "political payback"

        Is about the only reason the FTC wouldn't just shut down at this point. The republicans will never investigate wrongdoing by big oil or big cable. The democrats will never investigate wrongdoing by alternative energy or silicon valley. I'm sure others can come up with many more examples on both sides.

        I think the government needs more independence for a lot of the executive branch departments, whose operation changes FAR too much depending on which power is in the white house. If they required a 2/3 majority for appointments it wouldn't be so partisan, and firings done via the white house or political appointees (other than their own political appointees) should require a supermajority (if not unanimous) approval from a panel of judges.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm glad that Google is being looked at, but this is in large part political payback.

      "Big Cable and fossil fuel" vs Google and pals.

      Basically it is old money vs new money which aligns roughly with republicans vs democrats. The rest of us are just the audience.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About Bloody Time

    The walled gardens that exist today, the abuse of a commercial monopoly position, the whole thing; it's a stain on the reputation of a government system that once upon a time was a strong supporter of open standards, and open competition. The fact that the dinosaur-like EU is getting its act together first on this is pretty damning.

    The OTT nature of most of the world wide Web has caught a lot of regulatory systems off guard. Seems like there's now some effort to adapt to that.

    So if practises like this get outlawed, what value then is there for Google shareholders. Not much. Selling before the crash is going to be key, because with their current company constitution you can't tell the board they're doing it wrong. If Uncle Sam ends up telling them, your shares are going to be close to worthhless.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My bet is that the primary "tech" company target for the US government is Netflix, and I confidently expect the FTC and other agencies to be descending on them like a pile of bricks in the next few weeks. That will teach them to do a deal with Obama.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeh right

    Too little too late. US companies utterly dominate the web and software.

  7. Daggerchild Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Opinions must have limits!

    Google's ranking is obviously fabricated. Google are taking the *real* ranking and then changing it to suit *their* opinion on what is better. How can they be trusted anymore? Do they even consult those they affect?

    Their bias is easy to prove : Ask all the competitors how they would rank the results, and they will *all* disagree with Google and rank Google's offerings *much* lower.

    It is blatantly evident that Google cannot be trusted to do what is right for America. The search rankings must be *forcefully* aligned with those overseeing the Free Market. Any alternative is, as everyone can see, Evil.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Opinions must have limits!

      I'm sure they would say "our stuff is on top because it gets the most clicks", which of course ignores the fact that it is gets the most clicks because it is on top.

      I always thought clickthrough was a dumb indicator. If I search for something I will try some of the links on the first page based on whether they sound like they're what I want. I might click on five of them, not find what I'm looking for, then on the sixth I do. What matters isn't what I clicked, it is the LAST THING I clicked! That's how you tell I found what I'm looking for.

      A garbage link that was ranked high due to Google manipulation, SEO manipulation, or whatever still gets "credit" for my click, which is unfortunate. I wish there was a way to "unclick" something and tell Google "hey this link sucked, take away whatever my click was worth".

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  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    20 Year Anniversary - Meantime... What changed?

    Politicians move too slow! ... 20 years on... Walk into just about any Big Retailer in the world, and MS still have a near total monopoly. But its an even more complex problem now, as we actually have multiple Microsofts. Each of the Top-10 or so tech firms has become some form of monopoly.

    Thankfully Google's Search lock-in is soft. It would be nothing for people to switch over to using Startpage.com along with its proxy-page-viewer that DuckDuckGo lacks. But people aren't even asking the question. There's no alternative really to Facebook, except Facebook-#2 (aka Instagram) either!

    Messenger, there is a real alternative with Signal and it displaces the likes of WhatsApp too as well. But who knows about it? In my area ISP's offer life-long free email, which you get to keep even after moving ISP. That helps do away with Gmail. But what about the rest of the world's ISP's?

    Android phones are like an ankle bracelet in our 'open-prison' reality. Hard to disable without Rooting the phone... So Google win again regrettably. I'm less concerned about Google's Search-Page slurp than Android, as the lock-in on Android really is severe! Its not a soft lock-in, as most users can't afford Apple. Beyond feature phones, what else is available in the market?

    1. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

      Re: 20 Year Anniversary - Meantime... What changed?

      Even after your phone is rooted, there is a great deal that would need to be done to free it of all its links back to Google. It's my guess that very few people indeed will have done the whole job.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: 20 Year Anniversary - Meantime... What changed?

      Microsoft's monopoly means a lot less today because of smartphones. I wonder how much of their failure in smartphones was incompetence vs being restricted in leveraging their monopoly due to various consent degrees and knowing multiple authorities were watching them closely?

      We'll never know, but if they'd been able to turn the web into something that effectively only worked well with IE, it would have been a lot harder for iPhone and Android get established because the browsing experience would have sucked. That might have been just enough opening for Windows Phone to crawl through.

  11. Herby Silver badge

    History repeating itself??

    We all know what happened last time, and given the zeal (or lack thereof) of government agencies, I suspect that history will repeat itself on this one.

    Nothing to see here, please go away.

    (*SIGH*)

  12. tom dial Silver badge

    Analysis is needed

    "Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. Google is said to have a monopoly on internet search, a manifestly untrue statement when DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, and others are easily available and generally equivalent alternatives. The factt that none of the search engines collects money from search users also argues against the proposition.

    A significant part of Google's business involves charging advertisers for delivering their material to people. Yet while Facebook, with a slightly different version of the same model, seems to be doing quite well in the advertisement delivery business, to the extent that is hard to argue that Google has a monopoly in the advertising delivery business, despite the fact that both Google and Facebook put enormous pressure on older businesses like newspaper publishing that implement a very similar model.

    Google often answers queries directly rather than (only) by providing hypertext links to services such as Yelp that also answer the query. Yet Bing and Yahoo also do that, for example to my query "korean restaurant salt lake city." DuckDuckGo did not, and returned Yelp.com as the first search result, but the other three gave Yelp.com as the first link after their direct response. I generally avoid using Yelp and other review and aggregator sites because I have not found them more useful on average than links ordinarily further down that point directly to providers of whatever good or service I am interested in.

    So here are a few questions. In what exact sense is Google a monopoly, and of what business? Is Yelp's Stoppelman engaged in public service advocacy or rent seeking? What rules should be put in place to hobble Google relative to other search portals? Same question for sites like Yelp or price comparison sites that may add some value to the set of vendor links returned for the query? Should restrictions that target Google be applicable in principle to other search portals? If so, under what conditions, and if not, why not?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      ""Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. "

      No. It's far more complex than this, that is the simplistic approach. Often people say "monopoly" when they really mean "dominant position", and its abuse.

      Even Standard Oil didn't have full monopoly - but it vastly abused its dominant position for its own advantage. Nor Microsoft was the only seller of OS or computer software, but it was abusing its desktop software dominance.

      Also, a monopoly/dominant position doesn't need to be unfair to customers buying goods - it can simple be unfair to any kind of competition, still resulting in economic damages (i.e. less jobs, less tax incomes, less innovation, etc. etc.)

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: ""Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. "

        BTW: see also "monopsony" - it is usually applied to the labour market - but today it may also apply to many Internet businesses - where you see very few, if not only one, large companies taking control of markets, and becoming the facto almost the only way to sell some kind of goods, i.e. ads, but not only.

        Uber - just like many such platforms - aim was exactly to become the ruler of people offering "taxi" services, for example, by using their sheer scale.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: ""Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. "

          I thought about putting in a reference to monopsony, but the concept didn't seem to fitthe circumstances.

          I don't use Facebook much, but my wife and adult children do. From what I have seen shoulder surfing and read in financial news reports, it clearly is a major and quite successful competitor for advertising dollars. A claim that Google monopolizes Internet advertising seems unjustified.

          Uber, not the subject of this string, implements a business model that would appear on its face open to competition from existing cab companies if they were willing to hire a competent web developer and deploy the resulting application as Lyft, for example, has done. My experience in NYC suggests that old style cabs can do decently under suitable population density conditions, although Uber was a better choice than a yellow cab when we needed transportation from a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn at a time our preferred subway transport was unavailable. Arrival of competition, though, may bring suffering by weakening government protection.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: ""Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. "

        Dominant position on the selling side of a market does not, as such, constitute monopoly for US antitrust purposes, nor does the fact that Standard Oil, and perhaps Microsoft, abused a dominant market position establish that Google has done so.

        I fully expected a number of negative votes, and was not disappointed. I hoped for responses to a few specific questions, but did not really expect them, and also was not disappointed.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: ""Monopoly" generally incorporates the notion of single seller of some good. "

          If a company needed 100% of the market to be considered a monopoly, all it would have to do is avoiding strangling a last competitor or two just enough so it keeps breathing, but can't provide effective competition.

          For a good example of that, see AMD. Intel does a fantastic job of keeping them down, and it is only when they screw up (following P4 into a dead end last decade, their problems rolling out new processes lately) that AMD gets a potential foot in the door.

          Google is absolutely a monopoly by all realistic definitions. The mere existence of Bing and DuckGoGo doesn't make them not a monopoly, when over 90% of searches are done through them and for most people the verb "to google" means to do an internet search.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            "all it would have to do is avoiding strangling a last competitor"

            That's one of the reason Microsoft helped to save Apple when it was in very bad shape. Back then they didn't see it as a real competitor in the desktop systems and applications.

            Had they been able to foresee the iPhone, probably they would have helped to make it go bankrupt...

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Re: "all it would have to do is avoiding strangling a last competitor"

              Had they been able to foresee the iPhone, they wouldn't have been caught totally flat footed when it came out, requiring precious years to 1) realize & accept it was a generational leap over Windows Mobile and 2) develop Windows Phone.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "establish that Google has done so."

          That's up to antitrust agencies or a court to establish it - and EU did establish it - and if you - and others - can't see the similarities between Google and Microsoft you must wear really heavy blinders.

          I can't understand this worshiping of Google - the fact it may have good products (like other companies) doesn't exempt it from the law - together all the other companies who tried it in the past (like Microsoft) and those that will try it in the future.

          I find very funny - and dangerous, besides being stupid - when people think monopolies are good as long as they like the company holding them. It's not a sport competition.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Analysis is needed

      Google clearly has dominant market power in advertising. That much should be obvious from the last couple of weeks where it has been able to push three billion dollars of GDPR liability onto publishers with one non-negotiable change in their terms. In my view that's a clear cut abuse of market power because they know that there's no alternative. The fact that the publishers have had to accept it (OK, some have stopped running adverts) shows that there's no choice.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder why Bing isn't the dominant search engine, considering it's integrated into the taskbar, start menu, and Edge - which comes with Windows, and it's non-intuitive to either change the default search engine or browser (you're even warned against doing so).

    And to the untrained eye, the look and feel of Bing results are the same as Google.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "I wonder why Bing isn't the dominant search engin"

      How you reach your dominant position is irrelevant - you can get it by luck, because your competitors are lame, because your technical or business excellence, or - usually - a combination of them all. NOr a dominant position is an issue per se.

      What matters is only if you start to abuse it.

      Were Microsoft in the same dominant position of 1998, its forcing Bing everywhere would have been an issue - just it was IE or Media Player back then.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "I wonder why Bing isn't the dominant search engin"

        I think the point is that the majority of people not only make an active decision to use Google, but it also requires effort to do so.

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: "I wonder why Bing isn't the dominant search engin" @AC

          "I think the point is that the majority of people not only make an active decision to use Google, but it also requires effort to do so."

          Majority of people are on Android and IOS.

          On PC (Windows) many people use non-IE browser which usually default to Google. Google pays these 3rd party browser makes for these defaults.

          Many Windows users also prefer Acrobat Reader, which by default side-installs Google Toolbar for IE and/or Chrome. Google pays Adobe for this behaviour.

          1. Keven E

            Re: "I wonder why Bing isn't the dominant search engin" @AC

            It still cracks me up/pisses me off/makes me cry when I say to a user "go to adobe.com" (or whatever) and they type it into the google search field, not the address bar. Some of their traffic is just plain *untrained.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft docx still locks businesses in.

    Nothing happened about this.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "Nothing happened about this."

      False. After the antitrust efforts in US and EU, Microsoft had to open and document the formats fully:

      https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc313105(v=office.12).aspx

      https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg548604(v=office.12).aspx

      It is true it was probably too late because all competitors - for different reason - were already all crumbling.

      Anyway, thanks to that there are many applications today that can process Office files without having to reverse-engineer them.

      Supporting all rendering nuances can be an issue, true - that's true for web pages as well, after all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Nothing happened about this."

        If that where truly the case, then LibreOffice would be able to handle them much better.

        The format may be open, but the things it references aren't. You have to implement parts of office in order to correctly parse the file. Read one of the specs and you'll see what I mean.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: "Nothing happened about this."

          Antitrust can't be used to demolish a company expertise - only to avoid abuses.

          Nobody is asking Google to dumb down its search engine because Bing can't cope and its results are mostly useless, nor even to make open its algorithms, nor people should stop using Google and switch to Bing.

          Just, it can't use it to promote its own services while demoting the competition - for matter unrelated to the search itself, because that's abusing of a dominant position.

          A company can't put artificial barriers to competitors, but can't be forced to give away everything to them.

  15. Justice
    Mushroom

    How about an anti-trust against Apple?

    iOS *still* forces you to use Safari as the default browser.

    AFAIK this can only be changed by jailbreaking and invalidating the warranty.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: How about an anti-trust against Apple?

      Antitrust actions can only brought against companies that have an effective monopoly, which Apple does not have as they don't even have a majority of the smartphone market.

      The ONLY reason Microsoft was forced to open things up to other browsers in the past was because of their OS monopoly.

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