Google and Deserved Antitrust
This article was originally published for The Common Forum, a student-led political forum.
Over the past 20 years, from its beginnings as an innocent search engine to its present state as the globe's fourth largest company, Google, under the parent company of Alphabet Inc, has permeated itself into almost every corner of the modern internet. The average internet consumer may not even be aware of the depths into which Google reaches. Almost every website, even if it seemingly has no relation to Google, is connected to it some way for any reason - from loading resources from Google servers to running Google Analytics silently in the background, allowing Google to peer at every action a user makes on the site. Never mind the fact that the majority of consumers use Google's browser, Chrome. It's impossible to use the web in its stock form in 2021 without Google knowing exactly who you are, and what you are doing.
The vast majority of Google's income comes from marketing. They are not just a technology company, but the world largest advertising company as well. These things happen to work perfectly hand in hand for them. Google is able to learn behaviors, traits, likes/dislikes, et cetera, and are then able to use that information in order to better target ads. Perhaps the most important thing that Google collects is information about people's personalities and subconscious traits. For example, how likely someone is to buy a product after seeing an ad for it, how likely someone's political views are to change, how easily distracted somebody gets, how long people read emails from certain senders, et cetera. Google is able to deeply and truly understand every aspect of someone's life, maybe deeper than they even know themselves.
It's clear that Google holds a monopoly technology, and numerous lawsuits have been filed against the company for this level of power in the industry. In the fall of 2020 specifically, three separate antitrust lawsuits have been filed against Google. The first of these suits was filed by the Department of Justice at the end of October following an investigation started in June of 2019, and centered around Google search, claiming that the company paid billions of dollars to other tech companies to make Google search the default search engine, violating antitrust. Reportedly, Google pays up to 12 billion dollars every year to ensure Google is the default search engine in Apple products (accounting for a fifth of Apple’s revenue), and similar deals have also been made with other corporations like Mozilla, Amazon, and smart phone companies. Few other search engine companies (perhaps aside from Microsoft) have the resources for such a deal, so Google can be fairly certain that the other party will accept.
Another suit, filed by Texas and 10 other republican state attorneys in mid-December aims to attack Google's digital advertising business, and a deal they made with Facebook to stop Facebook from expanding into the header bidding sales method. Google is by far the largest digital advertiser, a sector which makes up the majority of their business. Google acts as a middleman between websites looking to make money from hosting ads on their websites and apps, and advertisers who, alone, would not be able to spread their messages as far as they can with Google’s resources. Advertising with companies other than Google is far less profitable, as advertisers’ reaches will be far less. Therefore independent companies are forced to choose Google.
Lastly, in mid-December, a group of 38 states led by Colorado is suing Google over its search monopoly and alleged illegal deals with smart-device manufacturers.. Though similar to the DOJ lawsuits, it is more focused on the consumer, and how the deals have affected alternative search companies. Google has been quick to refute the claims made by these three lawsuits, arguing that they are "baseless," and that alternatives to Google’s monopoly are "just a click away." In the case of search, Google would be right; Google search is perhaps the easiest of the company's services to replace as a consumer, as there are few dependencies on it specifically - alternatives such as DuckDuckGo, StartPage, Yahoo, Bing, and Ecosia are plentiful. In the case of advertising however, Google seems to be the only and most profitable consumer option.
Of all the lawsuits, the one filed by the Department of Justice seems to be the most potent in creating actual change, but even then taking Google down, or at least a significant portion of their business, seems unlikely. Google has faced numerous lawsuits in the past, and each time has been able to overcome with either no repercussions, or fines which are relatively miniscule to their overall revenue. Similar antitrust suits have been filed against Facebook by the FTC and 48 states led by New York over their acquisitions of Whatsapp and Instagram.
At its inception, the web was intended to be a free space to exchange knowledge. Since then, megacorporations like Google and Facebook have taken it over for their own profit. People browsing the web should not be forced as subjects to these monopolies as corporations juice money out of consumers to please their shareholders. This “free” place for information has come to a sad and unfortunate end.
If you'd like to escape Google's hold, at least partially, there are many resources to do so. privacytools.io provides simple and easy resources, with recommended software, actions and hosted services. Some of the simplest actions you can take go the furthest, such as switching from Chrome to Firefox, and installing an ad blocker like uBlock Origin.