The Google+ Antitrust Disaster

Google has become the tech media’s punching bag today, thanks to its launch of deep Google+ integration in Google Search.

The move was something that I expected, but I don’t think anybody expected the integration to be so massive. You can’t browse Google without seeing Google+ everywhere.

The problem is simple: Google is using its monopoly in search to direct people to its social network. Lots of people are comparing it to when Microsoft used Windows to boost Internet Explorer, effectively killing Netscape.

I don’t think all of the parallels are there — it’s far easier to switch search engines than switch operating systems. However, the question is valid: has Google abused its monopoly to thwart its competitors in social networking?

Google was clearly unprepared for the backlash. Eric Schmidt’s odd interview with Danny Sullivan makes it clear that Google hasn’t prepared a real defense against the antitrust allegations.

This is something the government is going to investigate. I wouldn’t want to be Google’s legal department right now.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Kainr

  • Spencer Ross

    I’m no lawyer, but I’m not sure how this is considered antitrust. Microsoft was bundling IE during a time when switching costs were great and alternatives weren’t presented (or promoted) to the consumer; additionally it bought out companies that restricted competition (Google has done similarly and has been the subject of antitrust investigation, accordingly).

    But organic growth and organic development isn’t anti-competitive and doesn’t seem to violate the Sherman nor Clayton Acts. Google search expands organic growth and, in fact, offers (and promotes) opt-out. If Twitter let its contract with Google lapse and subsequently asked/coded for ref=nofollow in Google search, there doesn’t seem to be a case.

    If this is considered antitrust, then tech ecosystems might as well be considered dead.

    • Michael Levin

      I agree with Spencer’s comment as I do not see the monopoly action.

      The Microsoft action turned on an issue of tying.

      To extend Spencer’s comment, Google’s decision to add Google+ does not appear to intrude on consumer welfare, which is the current hurdle for antitrust consideration. Indeed, Google would probably argue that its decision represents an attempt to improve consumer welfare.

  • http://twitter.com/sssuzy Susan Graeser

    I remember Netscape! 

  • http://photo.katzmatt.com Matt Katzenberger

    Funny thing is I’m sure Google would be happy to elevate Facebook and Twitter in the same way if they provided Google with full access to their data, which would make for a better experience all around anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/ericreagan Eric Reagan

    I don’t consider this to be antitrust at all. Search in general needs to become more social and personal. Twitter & Facebook both do not have completely open and indexable content. Some of it is, but not all of it. With that in mind, how is Google even expected to play on an even playing field when all of the content isn’t open. Only G+ is completely open and indexed. So with that in mind, why wouldn’t they improve and test an opt-in search environment to provide custom and personal results. Facebook already is integrated with Bing. Not to mention it was Twitter that ended their real time search results relationship with Google. It’s pretty simple. Either Facebook and Twitter should open up their content, all of it, and partner with Google. Or build a better search engine. 

  • Pujiono JS

    Hey, don’t you forget that we can still use Google without login to Google+? Why should you call it monopoly? If you do not like Google+ integration with Google Search, just do your search on Google without loging in. That’s simple.

  • Anonymous

    Google’s only “promoting” their product to the 40 millions users who’re ALREADY using that product…..if you’re not on g+ you won’t see gplus links in your search results. 40 millions compared with the number of people using google search is very small, the anti-trust case is pretty weak. Not to mention the only reason twitter is not in google’s social search is because they don’t want to…what does twitter want regulators to do? force google to pay for twitter’s data? to ban google’s social search? won’t happen, Google can use facebook’s deal with Bing as defense.

  • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

    What’s the difference between Google using its power to direct people to Google+ versus directing people to whatever web sites it thinks are most valid for the query at hand? At least the social layer FINALLY gives users a chance to eliminate overt spam results in organic search (unless they’re circling spam creators).

  • Anonymous

    No surprise that the government thinks they need to get involved… I wonder, should Google loose their arguments ( I don’t think they will ) just how will it affect the SOPA / PIPA fight on the Hill? My conspiracy theory disorder is kicking in here… sounds like a perfect set-up to “Prove” that total government control of private business on the internet is “necessary”.

  • http://luisgalarza.blogspot.com/ Luis Galarza

    They had it coming.. Don’t get me wrong, I love Google+ and everything about it, but I had doubts about ‘Search Plus’ because it look like the beginning for something big, bad, and ugly… 

    When the evolution of search goes step by step, everything is fine, but a big upside-down move like this one is gonna get many people, including the government looking into it!

    Let see what happens!

  • Erik Anderson

    How can you say Google has a monopoly, when in the next paragraph you note how easy it is for someone to switch to a different search engine?  A monopoly, by definition, is the complete control of a business area or market.

    I don’t understand all of this antitrust BS.  If G+ integration into search annoys, you turn it off.  I did it already and it’s really, really easy.  If you’re annoyed at Google for doing it in the first place, use Bing or Yahoo or one of the other five English language, general purpose search engines out there.