Feb 24, 2018

The antitrust case against Google

Photo: Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images

In "The Case Against Google" — the cover story of tomorrow's N.Y. Times Magazine — Charles Duhigg (author of the bestselling "The Power of Habit") explores the antitrust case against Google, and whether the company's algorithmic alchemy stacks the deck against its competitors:

  • "[A]ntitrust has always been about progress. Antitrust prosecutions are part of how technology grows. Antitrust laws ultimately aren’t about justice, as if success were something to be condemned; instead, they are a tool that society uses to help start-ups build on a monopolist’s breakthroughs without, in the process, being crushed by the monopolist. And then, if those start-ups prosper and make discoveries of their own, they eventually become monopolies themselves, and the cycle starts anew.
  • "If Microsoft had crushed Google two decades ago, no one would have noticed. Today we would happily be using Bing, unaware that a better alternative once existed. Instead, we’re lucky a quixotic antitrust lawsuit helped to stop that from happening. We’re lucky that antitrust lawyers unintentionally guaranteed that Google would thrive."
  • Duhigg's bottom line: "[I]f you love technology — if you always buy the latest gadgets and think scientific advances are powerful forces for good — then perhaps you ought to cheer on the antitrust prosecutors. Because there is no better method for keeping the marketplace constructive and creative than a legal system that intervenes whenever a company, no matter how beloved, grows so large as to blot out the sun."
  • "If you love Google, you should hope the government sues it for antitrust offenses — and you should hope it happens soon, because who knows what wondrous new creations are waiting patiently in the wings.
  • Worthy of your time.

Google response, included in the article: "We absolutely do not make changes to our search algorithm to disadvantage competitors ... We make hundreds of changes to search every year, all with the same goal: Delivering users the best, most relevant search results."

  • “Each change, large and small, affects millions of sites, some who see their rankings improve, others who drop. ... [O]ur ultimate responsibility is to deliver the best results possible to our users, not specific placements for sites within our results.”

Pushback from the right:

  • "More Antitrust Revisionism Aimed at Big Tech," by Iain Murray, Competitive Enterprise Institute vice president of strategy, on National Review.
  • "[A]nother underpowered case for breaking up Big Tech," by James Pethokoukis, a columnist and blogger at American Enterprise Institute.

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