Skip navigation

The Plot to Kill Google

Wired posts an appropriately controversial story about Google's enemies and their (separate, as it turns out) efforts to slow down the Internet goliath. Chief among these enemies, of course, is Microsoft.

Tom Barnett, assistant attorney general for antitrust at the US Department of Justice was signaling not just that the Google-Yahoo deal was dead but that the government saw Google as a potential monopolist. It was a stunning blow. Now the company, whose brand is defined by its "Don't be evil" slogan, faced the prospect of being hauled into court on an antitrust charge.

It was cause for celebration in Redmond, where Microsoft spent six months on a massive effort, costing millions of dollars, to block the Yahoo/Google deal.

High-profile legal battles aren't fought only in the courtroom. Public perceptions matter. Momentum matters. Relationships matter.

For years, Microsoft had quietly seethed as Google waltzed into a position of immense power while charming regulators and politicians with an aura of gee-whiz innocence. Even when Google hired a small team of lobbyists and took the occasional swing at Redmond, the company's feel-good reputation remained intact.

"Google has badly misjudged how it is perceived," Microsoft advisor Michael Kassan reassured John Kelly, Microsoft's head of strategic relations. "We have a clear and easy story to tell."

It went like this: Google had 70 percent of the search advertising business, and Yahoo had 20 percent. Now those two companies were proposing a business deal. That would give advertisers less leverage to negotiate ad rates, and they would end up paying more.

Google's staff learned of a 94-page document titled "Google Data Collection and Retention," that had been circulating around Washington. The treatise listed all the ways that Google hoards user information. Google Checkout remembers credit card numbers. Gmail reads private email. Blogger saves draft posts. As one annotation on the document helpfully notes, Google's privacy policy "gives Google the right to retain personal information over the wishes of a user." Overall, Google is painted as a Big Brother with an insatiable desire for private data.

Traditionally, Google has fought off powerful rivals with masterful code. It took on the established search behemoths by creating more effective software. It bested Microsoft's and Yahoo's advertising efforts by inventing an entirely new ad platform. But the war today is being fought in Washington, in the press, and perhaps even in the Justice Department again. And these aren't battles you can win with engineers and algorithms.

So. What are we to make of this? Using the EU's ongoing (and increasingly insane) attempts at curbing Microsoft's behavior as a guide, it's hard not to see Google as a monopolist now or, at the very least, as a company on the cusp of monopoly. Our digital future is too important for these issues to be ignored. And it's pretty clear that Google's cheery public face has little to do with the realities of its business practices. I use and recommend several Google services. But I certainly do have my reservations about the company. They should at least be closely examined, early and often.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.