Adult bullies are in a special class–they were born that way and stayed that way, and they have been practicing how to get away with it for years. And then one day–they become rich and powerful. And some of them are called Google. (See the Eric Schmidt’s description of the monopolistic tech oligarchy or “Gang of Four” cartel in conversation with AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.)
What is common to all of these adult bullies? They are accustomed to getting away with it. And for all of its benefits and “innovation” what Google is really best at is getting away with it.
Getting Away With Ethics Problems: Google got away with having their former worldwide head of lobbying Andrew McLaughlin planted in the Obama White House while getting messages from Google lobbyist Markham Erickson that pretty clearly violated lobbying and White House ethics rules. This one was about a meeting that Erickson had with IPEC Victoria Espinel that apparently didn’t go to his liking:
Andrew McLaughlin was allowed to exit quietly, and Markham Erickson is now the head of the American Bar Association’s technology law committee. Gee, how would we ever know whose side he’s on?
Getting Away With Illegal Drugs:
Google advertised illegal drugs in search from the beginning of the company until last year when Google executives authorized using the stockholders’ money for the payment of a $500,000,000 fine to keep from being personally indicted. Google board members and executives, including Sheryl Sandberg (now a helmer at the Facebook debacle), are being sued by stockholders. Of course, any Google user–regardless of age–can still use Google’s autocomplete to “buy oxycontin online no prescription cheap.”
If Sheryl Sandberg’s experience is a guide two words of unsolicited advice for Marissa Meyer and Susan Molinari: Separate counsel. You’ll need it.
Getting Away With Monopolist Bad Behavior
Google has proven that it is willing to spend any amount of money to get its own way–including what stockholders think is misappropriating company money to avoid personal liability. Nowhere is this axiom more fully proven than Google’s current struggle against the competition laws of the European Union in its desperate attempts to avoid sanctions planned by Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy.
The issue in the EU is the same as one of the issues forcefully argued on a bipartisan basis by our own U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee: Google cooks its search results to harm its competitors and to favor Google’s own products. This is not the only threat to Google running roughshod over the Internet, but it is one of the significant problems.
The Financial Times reports that Google has proposed a solution to hard wiring Google products in search results: keep the search results the same, but brand Google’s own products (which inevitably means branding on the first page of search results which is where Google’s own products mysteriously appear).
Google has made a bid to avoid an antitrust war with Brussels by offering to label information from its in-house services that are included in its search results pages, according to people familiar with the search giant’s submission.
Under the proposal, Google would put its brand on any of its own maps, stock quotes, airline flight details or other pieces of information returned with search results. It is an attempt to resolve regulators’ fears that Google is unfairly squeezing out other specialist information services on the web.
However, the idea has drawn complaints privately from some of the company’s fiercest competitors, who said Google could still rob rivals of online traffic by promoting its own services more prominently than others.
If you have dealt with Google, you know the “hey idiot” tone they frequently take, sublimely oblivious to the fact that sometimes it actually does hurt to ask. Particularly if what you are asking for insults the intelligence of the other side.
So think about this branding idea: If you were to accept this proposal as a solution to hard wiring Google’s products in search above its competitors, you would also have to ignore the fact that the entire point of the complaint is that Google purposely uses its monopoly position in the market to harm its competitors (and ultimately consumers who are prevented from receiving information about competing products).
In other words, you’d have to fall for two very Google tactics. You’d have to believe that the bright and shiny object they want you to look at is a solution.
And you’d also have to fall for the rope-a-dope. Google thinks that they can fool the EU into arguing about these bright and shiny objects while Google delays the outcome of the monopoly negotiation yet again while Google rakes in monopoly profits every day of delay. In fact, at this point the entire investigation may have paid for itself.
The FT quotes Professor Ben Edelman who sums this up nicely:
“Google would still be able to put its competitors on page 35 [of its search results], so any solution would have to go much further,” said Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard University and critic of the company’s search and advertising practices.
And yes, Google really does have enough hubris to believe that they could trick Joaquín Almunia into falling for this bunk.
Senators Blumenthal and Franken summed it up at the recent U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing:
Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut [told Google’s Eric Schmidt:] “You run the racetrack, own the racetrack, you didn’t have horses for a while but now you do and your horses seem to be winning.” To which his colleague from Minnesota, Al Franken, joked: “Google might be doping the horses.”
Literally, in Google’s case.