Maybe it’s time for a Google version of Monopoly.
It will play exactly like every other version of Monopoly, and after a few rounds and a couple of laughs you’ll wonder what the fuss was about. You know, kind of like the sideshow that went on in The United States Senate this week, as the question of whether Google is a Monopoly began receiving its day in front of legislators who can’t agree on the meaning of the word.
The dictionary definition of monopoly is exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices. At the Senate hearings, one technology executive after another testified that Google is now in such complete control of the markets they pursue—and there are many—that legislation to curb Google’s influence has become necessary.
If you look at that definition Google absolutely doesn’t fit it. Not the first half, and not even the second. I had to think about that for a couple of minutes, by the way. The first part was never a consideration; there are other search engines and other sellers of advertising, so Google is’t a monopoly in that sense. As for the second part: yes, Google controls their own prices, but I have never heard any advertiser complain that they couldn’t sell their advertising inventory because Google’s was cheaper.
And of course, there are any number of other search engines. Google is used by approximately two-thirds of everyone, but there are other options and people not only can choose them, but do when they think the results they’ll get are better than those Google’s search delivers. Bing advertises themselves as better search. Ask.com says their way of searching is better. Blekko trumpets their crowd-sourced approach to search. The list goes on and on.
Bing, by the way, is stealing Google’s search engine results. Unless they aren’t.
In fact, the closest Google comes to being a monopoly is that they command a whole lot of our attention.
Three of my last five four out of six posts are about Google; they pervade the business change landscape.
But the government is in no position to handcuff Google right now. And even though Google looks as though they manipulated their own PageRank a couple of months back, like everything else they do there’s enough room for other interpretation that sans evidence of intentionally monopolistic practices Google should be allowed to be Google.
My favorite testimony in the Senate/Google Monopoly hearings came from Jeremy Stoppelman. Mr. Stoppleman, the CEO of Yelp, which itself has been accused of some awfully dirty business tactics, on the one hand complained that Google “borrows” Yelp’s restaurant reviews, and on the other hand is concerned that since Google has stopped using Yelp’s data and instead chosen to incorporate their own reviews they’ll no longer send people to Yelp. Translation: Yelp thought they could sell data to Google, but Google has their own.
You call that a business model, Jeremy? On the one hand you want to sell to Google, and on the other hand you accuse them of being a monopoly when your data stops being necessary to their search efforts?
I have lots of days when I’m as worried about Google as anyone. In fact, since we make money here by doing Search Engine Optimization I watch Google a lot more closely than most people. But governments pondering idea such as “business monopolies” need to stay back unless there’s no doubt.
And by definition, Google isn’t a monopoly.