Gloating, schadenfreude, and a pinch of anxiety: Critics pile on Google over antitrust indictment
Some of the search giant’s rivals cheered on the federal government’s allegations that Google has engaged in monopolistic, competition-crushing behavior. Other firms—like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, which also happen to be facing similar investigations—remained quieter, no doubt fearful of what a government flexing its antitrust muscles may mean for their own businesses.
In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for Google’s public policy team tweeted that the lawsuit “is deeply flawed.” Kent Walker, Google’s head of global affairs, added that “people use Google because they choose to—not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”
Critics see the situation differently—and for some, the animosity is palpable. One minute after Google published its comment, Luther Lowe, senior vice president of public policy at Yelp, offered a concise rejoinder.
“Google is harming consumers,” Lowe replied on Twitter to Google’s public policy account. He added a link to focusontheuser.com, an anti-Google group whose members include Yelp, travel reviews site TripAdvisor, and the Internet activism group Fight for the Future.
A desperate cry for Yelp
For years, Yelp has feuded with Google, arguing that it unfairly prioritizes search results to its own properties over those of its rivals. “We would be a significantly bigger company with more resources to invest if Google had played fair and not tipped the scales in their favor,” Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman lamented to tech blog The Verge this year.
In a post on Yelp’s corporate blog, Lowe expanded on the point. “By systematically reducing the quality of its search results in order to entrench and extend its search and search advertising monopolies, Google is directly harming consumers,” he said.
He continued, praising the Justice Department for pursuing the case. “Yelp applauds the work of the DOJ and encourages swift action by state attorneys general who are conducting parallel investigations into other aspects of Google’s business,” he said.
Gabriel Weinberg, chief executive of DuckDuckGo, a privacy-centered search engine, joined in expressing schadenfreude. “We’re pleased the DOJ has taken this key step in holding Google accountable for the ways it has blocked competition, locked people into using its products, and achieved a market position so dominant they refuse to even talk about it out loud,” he said.
“While Google’s anticompetitive practices hurt companies like us, the negative impact on society and democracy wrought by their surveillance business model is far worse,” he continued. “People should be able to opt out in one click.
“Historians will hopefully look at today as the beginning of the end of the surveillance economy,” DuckDuckGo’s Weinberg said.
The government’s battle could be a grueling one. Dan Price, chief executive of Gravity Payments, a credit card payments processing firm based in Seattle, highlighted the immensity of Google’s war chest. “The problem is,” he said, Google “now has $120 billion in cash to fight [the lawsuit], just like Amazon, Facebook, and Apple if they are sued.”
Eye to eye across the aisle
The antitrust action drew rare bipartisan support, although representatives were torn over some aspects.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who spearheaded a recent House investigation into Big Tech’s market dominance, offered support for the Justice Department’s move. “This step is long overdue. It is time to restore competition online,” he said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), another member of the House antitrust subcommittee, endorsed the suit. “It’s time to rein in Big Tech’s anticompetitive behavior as it harms innovation, small businesses, consumers, and local journalism,” she said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a former presidential aspirant, praised the Justice Department’s message while condemning its messenger. “The case is clear—in fact, it could have gone further,” she said of the lawsuit; simultaneously, she landed a political jab: “Bill Barr is a corrupt Trump crony who shouldn’t be AG.”
Across the aisle, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) echoed the anti-Google sentiment. “Google has used its monopolistic share of the marketplace to cheat and steal for far too long,” he said. “This is an important first step in stopping Big Tech’s anticompetitive behavior.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.), concurred, saying it was “another good step in holding Big Tech accountable.”
Other members of the Republican Party harped on allegations of Google being politically biased, a frequent accusation. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) leveled, “Big Tech’s out to get conservatives. Attorney General Barr won’t let them get away with it.” The attorney general himself, meanwhile, called the lawsuit a “monumental case” against an “unlawful monopolist.”
Many other technology companies took a more reserved stance and did not volunteer to comment on the government’s challenge to Google. Their silence is easy to understand; any one of them could be a future target of regulatory wrath.
Google’s summons has ominous import for its tech industry peers. As Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) put it, “Get ready, @Twitter. You’re next.”