by Bob Barr
The long-awaited and much-discussed anti-trust suit against Big Tech behemoth Google has been filed by the Justice Department. While many on the conservative side of the ledger are applauding the government’s action, the reality is that Google, while big and powerful, is not a “monopoly” that ought to be subject to such drastic action by the federal government.
I do not make that statement as a die-hard fan of Google. I have been among those critical of the search engine company for using manipulative algorithms to direct internet users in ways that skew the results, the so-called “search engine manipulative effect” or “SEME.” I also have chastised Google for the way it has stretched the “fair use” doctrine beyond reasonable limits in the company’s years-long battle with Oracle over “application programming interfaces.”
Those and other criticisms of Google, however, are reflective of issues that can be remedied by civil lawsuits (as in the Oracle case now awaiting Supreme Court action), or through targeted action by the Congress (if it would wake from its customary somnambulance and actually follow up its oversight responsibility with focused, meaningful legislative proposals rather than just talk).
Pulling the trigger on a massive antitrust action against Google, however, is simply not called for. A decision reached in 2013 by the Federal Trade Commission following a two-year investigation of its own. In the broad scheme of things, little has changed since then that would render Google a monopoly to be broken apart by the feds.
Yes, Google is still big, and yes it wields considerable power as a global search engine. But Google is by no means the only search engine on the internet block. There are more than two dozen active search engines available to internet users, each one only a few clicks on the keyboard away if a person is dissatisfied with their Google “experience.”
In terms of advertising revenues, while Google brings in far more than Facebook or Amazon, recent reports show that, far from being stifled by Google, Amazon’s ad revenues have been increasing substantially at the expense of both Facebook and Google. In other words, competition in the internet advertising market remains alive and well.
Objective analysis of the internet search and advertising market simply do not support the conclusion that Google sits atop that market because it has engaged in practices that harm either consumers or businesses that advertise on the platform. Unfortunately, in a highly charged election year the search engine giant makes an easy and tempting target for Democrats and Republicans alike, as a way to burnish their pro-consumer and anti-Big Business credentials.
Liberal members of Congress, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and of course, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, delight in beating up on Google largely because it is big and successful. Many conservatives in the nation’s Capitol are quick to jump on the anti-Google bandwagon because of its thinly disguised bias toward Democrats. But neither reason provides proper basis for an anti-trust lawsuit, in many ways the most powerful legal tool in the government’s arsenal.
The anti-trust hammer should not be unleashed at this time and in this manner to punish a company that, while imperfect, has changed dramatically and positively the way people all over the word perceive and use information, information being the real currency of the 21st Century. The repercussions of a successful anti-trust lawsuit against Google would be felt for years to come, and would open the door to search engine companies from other countries, notably including China, whose bias against the United States and disdain for the very free markets that spawned Google and so many other internet tech companies, is (or should be) well known to lawyers at the Department of Justice.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He currently serves as President and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation.