Antitrust+?

Given my post last night, this will probably sound like piling on. But I’m sorry, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. I don’t see how it can’t.

How on Earth is Google going to avoid antitrust inquiries with their new Search+ features announced today? If Facebook, Twitter, etc, have any decent presence in DC, the ball began rolling a few hours ago.

This is the type of case that Senators die for. Google wrapped it in a bow and placed it in one of their laps.

Most of the broader antitrust concerns against Google are bullshit in my opinion. You can argue that they have a monopoly on search, but it’s a natural one. They’ve earned it. They’re simply better at search than their competitors. This has always been true. It remains true.

But when they use that natural monopoly to start pushing into other verticals, things get gray. Travel, restaurant reviews, etc, etc. We see more of it each year. 

But this, at first glance, seems decidedly worse. Google is using Search to propel their social network. They might say it’s “not a social network, it’s a part of Google”, but no one is going to buy that. They were late to the game in social and this is the best catchup strategy ever. 

Given that it’s opt-out, I’m just not sure that this is all that different from Microsoft bundling IE with Windows.

The fact that Google already has a counter argument says something as well. 

“Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service,” Google Fellow Amit Singhal told Danny Sullivan. “Of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work,” he continued.

On the surface, this sounds like a fair point. But it’s hollow for two reasons.

First, it’s not gonna happen.

Second, those other companies can argue that it’s not in their best business interest to open that data. In effect, Google would be forcing them to hurt their business if they were to open the data up. The fact that Google previously had a deal for Twitter data (which expired) also will cast this argument in an interesting light.

I’m not saying that the Justice Department should look into this. I’m just saying that I think they will. I’m far from an expert on this, but I think anyone should be able to see how this is a very slippery slope for Google. And it’s surprising they would try this given the heat on them in other directions with regard to antitrust.

Google’s best hope here may be for Facebook to deepen its relationship with Microsoft for even more Bing social search features. Or to hope that Twitter does. But Bing is still far behind Google in search. That is unlikely to change. This is going to get interesting. 

Update: Sure enough, Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel who specializes in policy (and used to work for Google) has some interesting thoughts on this:

Update 2: Twitter responds to Antitrust+.

Update 3: And Google’s response to Twitter’s response.

  1. parislemon posted this