So the feds are suing the Google

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but the US Justice Department filed a monopoly lawsuit against Google today. This has been a long time coming, and parallels a lot of the concern expressed by the EU (though it certainly leans more on privacy issues).

My frustration with Google is something I've written about before, and it's almost entirely centered with their dominance in the advertising market. The DoubleClick acquisition was definitely an inflection point. In the old days, there were many ad providers, and as a publisher, you would embed the tags for one in your site, then set other providers as backups in a chain. We made money, and if one ad provider tanked, there was always another. But because Google turned their ad platform into a mega-profiler via search, no one could measure the clicks and target specific people the way they can, so most ad providers disappeared. There's no way to compete with that. If you're going to pitch a VC, what is it with? "Oh hey, I'm gonna convince a bunch of publishers to embed my tags to serve advertising I haven't yet sold, then on the strength of that, convince advertisers to spend money with me." That would totally work!

With that said, I don't think Google is a 100% monopolistic Satan worshiping shit show. Technically, yes, they have the dominant operating system on mobile, but remember that you aren't locked into their app stores or anything (I'm looking at you, Apple). Their email and "office" apps are top notch and compete with Microsoft. They haven't made any significant inroads to getting a piece of retail. So the government's case may be broad, but I think their actual sin is a lot narrower than they're making it. I'm not in favor of breaking up the company or anything, but I also don't know what the resolution is to breaking their ad dominance. I doubt the government knows either.

It reminds me a lot of when the feds were suing Microsoft, mostly about bundling Internet Explorer in Windows. We know how that all turned out. The company got off with a consent decree that promised not to be naughty. Bundling the browser never helped the Bing search engine. But IE held on to half the market share through 2013, and it plummeted after that, because Google's Chrome was so much better. And you know what's hilarious? IE was tossed out in favor of Edge, which is essentially 98% the same as Chrome, literally deriving from the same open source project. What will happen with Chrome and the lawsuit? At worst I imagine they'll have to promise to ask which search engine you want to default to, and I think they might already have to do that in the EU.

Bottom line, if anything can come out of the next several years of this, if it goes to court at all, I hope they figure out how to make other players in the ad market possible.


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