The Googlization of the internet isn’t happening, it already has. As Vaidhyanathan wrote, Google is truly sui generis, there is nothing else like it and nothing to compare it to. When people think of Google, their inevitable first thought is of the search engine. However, Google has come to encompass much more in the past decade. Google runs Gmail, Google Docs, Google+ and bought YouTube in 2006. With its vast array of services and the overwhelming use of them, some have started to cry foul about the monopolization of the internet. Vaidhyanathan argues that asking whether or not Google is a monopoly is the wrong question to be asking, but I firmly disagree. We live in an age of anti-trust laws, so if people are questioning and attacking Google, which is such an intricate part of our modern internet, then the question must be answered.
Last Thursday the European Parliament passed a vote to break up Google on the basis of anti-trust laws. As James Kanter points out in his New York Times article, this is rather meaningless because of the lack of binding power of the European Parliament. He says that a breakup of Google in Europe will almost certainly not happen and that the vote was merely symbolic. However, if the European Commission, a body with real power in Europe backs the vote there would be immense pressure on Google. While the Commission does have the power to break up companies in Europe, Kanter says that restrictions or fines, possibly as high as $6 billion, are more likely. The European Union may not be able to fundamentally threaten the existence of Google as we know it, but these types of actions could force Google to make some serious changes. This type of threat at least validates the need for a discussion of whether or not Google is a monopoly.
Jeffrey Katz wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Google is in a “position all business leaders would love to find themselves in.” Katz cites statistics that show that Google accounts for 82 percent of the global search market and 98 percent of the mobile search market. that would seem to indicate that the advantage Google enjoys will only continue to grow with the growth of mobile media. Katz says that Google has stacked the deck because its searches favor its own products and sites. Katz calls for changes to the way Google operates to limit its unfair power as a monopoly. He wants Google to be transparent with respect to the operation of its search engine and its results, especially limiting its self-promotion. He says Google needs to provide unbiased search results and advertising, even if they favor a competitor. This doesn’t seem at all consistent with the standards that common businesses are held to. After all, who would bash Wal-Mart for not being fair to Target? We live in a capitalist market and harsh competition is a natural part of the marketplace. However, Google is held to a higher standard because of its online nature. The internet is seen as the ultimate forum for free speech and as such, a monopoly on the internet possesses immense power. You don’t need to look any further than the censorship of the internet in China to see the effects of an internet monopoly.
David Vise wrote an article in 2006, which is still highly relevant despite being outdated. Vise wrote that those fearing the rise of Google should remember that Google has had to fight Yahoo, Microsoft and the likes for supremacy. While these seem like largely insignificant hurdles now, Microsoft never had a true competitor in its rise. Microsoft was never vilified as a monopoly or feared though. Maybe Google faces difficulty because of its nature as a self-proclaimed “unconventional” company. Vise argues this point though, saying that, despite the uniqueness of some of its products, the fundamental business operations of Google have actually been quite conventional form its start at Stanford University to its IPO. Vise would surely have a bit of a different view if he were writing his piece now. At the time of his piece, Google only accounted for 48 percent of internet searches and Vise wondered if Google might be toppled.
Vaidhyanathan degrades the debate, but only after he makes a case that seemingly argues that Google is a monopoly. Google argues that the barriers to entry are low because the internet allows for the cheap and simple creation of websites. However, Vaidhyanathan points out that Google is not a mere website, but a vast business with labs, offices and top-flight employees. He also says there is a network effect that pushes people to use Google’s products because so many others do, which creates standardization. He says that Microsoft is the only company with the requisite processing power and server space to compete with Google. Ultimately though it seems as though Bing, Microsoft’s attempt to compete with Google’s search engine, has fallen on its face. Google has become a monopoly largely through standardization. It is the default search engine for most internet browsers and many of its other services, like YouTube, completely dominate their respective fields. The relevant question then becomes: is Google’s monopoly beneficial or detrimental to the world wide web?
Kanter, J. (2014, November 27). E.U. Parliament Passes Measure to Break Up Google in Symbolic Vote. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/28/business/international/google-european-union.html?_r=0.
Katz, J. (2012, June 8). Google’s Monopoly and Internet Freedom. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1019086986?pq-origsite=summon.
Siva Vaidhyanathan. (2011). The Googleization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Vise, D. (2006). Google. Foreign Policy, 154, 20-24. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/224042254?pq-origsite=summon.