A Historic Case Against Google

Slate's If Then


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When it comes to google regulators have no shortage of potential antitrust violations to choose from. Internationally. It's face charges around a shopping service. It's advertising technology and its android operating system. But this first case in the US is all about Google made its name in the first place search. Let's get into the details here. What does the government allege that Google has done? Essentially, with the government is saying is that Google has violated these nearly century old antitrust laws that are supposed to keep companies in check you can be big in the United States. Big is not inherently illegal. You can't just do things with the bigness though that harm other competitors or harm consumers essentially, what the feds are saying is that Google engaged in a host of business practices and struck special deals to ensure its search engine was the default search engine on a wide variety of other sites and services and devices, some of which are actually owned or operated by. Some of Google's competitors. So for instance, if you're using IPHONE is I happen to be is recording all of this the default search right there is google and the reason that Google is the default search on iphone is because Google pay a heck of a lot of money to apple to ensure it was the default search on iphone and is through those sorts of agreements that Google has brokered with a number of these device makers and payments that Google makes to some of these companies that the Department of Justice says Google is acting in an anti competitive and illegal fashion. What does all this mean for just regular people who probably use these products but are not? Going to be. Digging into the legal filings here. Right I think on the most basic level, the government would say that the products and services you use every day would be better if there weren't this giant companies sucking all the air in the money out of the room, the government's argument here is that you know newer cooler perhaps more effective ways of searching the web or using their phone just come online because nobody can compete with a company like Google, but if you talk to a lot of antitrust experts. They say that even if you take it out of the context of this individual search case, there are just bad things that are associated with large companies that. The spaces that they're in. You know if you don't like the way youtube handle something like hate speech for example, there are a few other places term because youtube is such a dominant force in online video. So in many ways, the harms can be kind of abstract. Google response to this has been people years our product because it's the best and you know if someone doesn't doesn't like it, they can switch their default search engine. I'm not sure even know how to switch the default search engine on my phone. That's that feels like something that is a step beyond most consumers. Yeah. Absolutely. See this a number of context but it's something that's going to be litigated here like this is one of the primary battlegrounds between the Justice Department and Google. Is it enough that there is a setting somewhere in the universe that you're able to change from Google to another provider on search, and if it is the case that things are that easy their simple as Google says, why is it Google has to spend so many billions dollars making itself the default and shutting out which providers from having that pole position on a great many devices and services. The last huge fight between and big tech. Again, this was back in nineteen, ninety eight. I was a senior in college that fight went on for years at one point a judge ruled that Microsoft should be broken up, but the case was eventually settled. People who followed that case say that the government is deliberately making some familiar arguments now. You know in the eyes of one of the former government officials I talked to for our story. He said, basically, the government was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for federal judge they can say, Hey, look this bad thing that Google is doing this allegedly illegal thing looks a whole lot like something that you previously have ruled to be illegal. It's the same kind of content. So you know it's not something that's unfamiliar. It's not untried in legal territory necessarily there's precedent for what the government is alleging here. The levies and finding into but but it's been a pretty long time since there has been a significant antitrust action against Tech Company in the US. Why is that? I mean first and foremost there is bipartisan interest rate. Now taking a close look at Google and other big tech companies. But frankly, it wasn't always that way we there there was a period of time in recent memory. Of course I have been on this beat for the past decade where I don't even think most Democrats and Republicans and places like Capitol Hill had a full appreciation of what these companies were much less recognized the power that they could bring about and the political space and in the markets and so forth, and so it has just taken a long time to get folks throughout Washington to really understand what these companies are. They do and how they operate at the more importantly figure out how to apply some of these very old laws to business operations that just weren't contemplated when the laws were written in the first place I mean, we're talking about laws that were essentially used to to break up standard oil. The these are not laws that are aimed at fast moving technology companies right exactly, and there's definitely been a bit of an awakening in Washington about some of these issues. There have been times when the government has taken a look at tech companies and Google actually is the best example of this. The government had embarked on this major probe of the tech giant and its search advertising business. But it wrapped up that investigation in two thousand thirteen without really bringing any significant penalties and in the eyes of critics really at the time stood as an example of Washington being a bit feckless against Silicon Valley, not having the political ban with not having the legal resources whatever the reason to go after these companies that they saw at the time is a serious concern. You know I, covered Congress and the White House in the Obama era and you're right there was a sense then that there wasn't that much enforcement of antitrust when come when it came to big tech that they were sort of quote unquote good companies in the eyes of a lot of people in Washington. What do you think has changed? Right. They were good companies. They were great companies if you were trying to raise money from them at the Obama Campaign's Eight and twelve learned I actually distinctly remember Obama sitting at Google headquarters talking to Google employees and the campaign for them. It was this like cool thing that you did if you wanted to show that you were a tech focused candidate hidden Obama got all that praise for using an

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