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Critics Call on Feds to Squelch a Google Monopoly

Critics call on feds to squelch a Google monopoly

With Google squarely in their sights, Microsoft and advocate group
Consumer Watchdog have joined the chorus of voices calling on the
government to take measures to prevent a search monopoly — or to deal
with the one that already exists.

The concerns set forth by Microsoft, Consumer Watchdog, and other observers [1] go beyond whether Google gives
unfair prominence in search rankings to paid advertisers. Critiques
range from “A company such a Google could abuse its search dominance”
to “Google is already abusing its search dominance”  to push its other
revenue-generating services —  such as maps, video, and shopping
searches — at the expense of competitors. 

As reported by Ars Technica [4], Microsoft weighed in on the
issue in comments sent to the FCC last week, responding to the group’s
inquiry about the Future of Media in a Digital Age [5]. In its
submission Microsoft doesn’t mention Google specifically, except in
footnotes, but the company does paint of grim picture of an Internet
that lacks any effective competition in the area of search: “A dominant
provider has the ability to push consumers to content that competes
with an existing offering from a competitor and then ’shout over’ the
competitor simply by causing its search users to believe that its own
content is the most popular or relevant.”

Lo and behold, the Internet does seems to lack much in the way of
effective search competition: According to Experian, Google accounted
for 71.4 percent of the total searches in the United States in April.
Its top three competitors, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask, made up 15 percent,
9.4 percent, and 2.2 percent of searches, respectively.

Whereas Microsoft skirts the issue of whether it believes Google has
achieved dangerous monopoly status, Consumer Watchdog is quite
explicit on its position, which it outlines in a newly released study
being distributed to U.S. Justice Department and European Commission
antitrust officials, titled “Traffic Report: How Google is Squeezing Out
Competitors and Muscling Into New Markets.”
[6]

The study paints a picture of Google that is, in fact, strikingly
similar to Microsoft’s description of a dominant provider that gives
its own content preferential treatment over that of competitors.

The group says it studied Internet traffic data for more than 100
popular Web sites since 2007. Among its conclusions: “Since adopting
Universal Search, which favors Google’s properties with prominent
listings in its results, traffic to Google’s sites has soared at the
expense of competitors. ”

For example, the report says that “MapQuest, a unit of AOL, appears
likely to soon be reduced from a dominant player in Web commerce to an
also-ran, due in large part to the steps taken by Google to favor its
own locator service.”

Just as Microsoft is subtle in calling out Google as a monopoly, the
company has a light-touch proposal to remedy the threat of an overly
dominant search provider. Whereas Consumer Watchdog is obviously
hankering for an antitrust investigation in the US and EU, Microsoft is
merely (and vaguely) asking for “transparency,” which wouldn’t
necessarily mean sharing proprietary search algorithm details.

Rather, it would be a matter of pulling back the curtains a bit to
“allow users and other actors in the online ecosystem to know whether a
vertically integrated, dominant search engine is favoring its own
content or that of preferred partners in natural or paid search results
over competing, unaffiliated content.”

“The goal,” Microsoft’s submission continues, “would be for users
and the government to understand what factors are and are not
influencing the dominant provider’s search results and advertising
placements and the extent to which the dominant provider makes
judgments that could impede diversity in the future of media.”

Links:

[1]
http://www.infoworld.com/t/tech-industry-analysis/warning-google-becomin...
[2]
http://infoworld.com/d/mobilize/google-refutes-criticism-about-android-f...
[3] http://www.infoworldmobile.com/
[4]
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/06/pot-kettle-black-microso...
[5] http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=6015542402
[6] http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/TrafficStudy-Google.pdf
[7]
http://infoworld.com/t/regulation/critics-call-feds-squelch-google-monop...
[8] http://www.infoworld.com/?source=footer
[9] http://www.infoworld.com/blogs/infoworld-tech-watch?source=footer