History often repeats itself. In the history of computing – first you had IBM getting sued for antitrust, then Microsoft, and you have to wonder if Google is next.
Google, america’s superstar business du jour, just won a lawsuit allowing it to reject ads from companies it does not want to do business with. Some people would applaud Google saying Google is helping police the Internet (I would argue who elected Google town sheriff but I digress). That is all fine and well today, but as Google continues to grow its marketshare in search advertising and other forms of advertising – video, radio, print, etc. – the reality of getting sued a la IBM and Microsoft increases everyday. In fact, I do not believe if Google will be sued for antitrust by the DoJ, I think the question is when. That’s because as the number of companies Google rejects increases, the pool of pissed of companies who just might sue increases.
First off, I think it’s important to understand that monopolies are not illegal. What’s illegal is using a monopoly for anticompetitive purposes. Effectively the rules change once you become a monopoly or get accused of being one – you can no longer be as capricious, arbitrary or as aggresive as you once were. Just ask Microsoft.
How does this impact Google and their court victory? Today thanks to the court ruling, Google can discriminate against companies it doesn’t want to do business without reason or explanation. As a monopolist or someone accused of being one who settles with a consent decree overseen by a judge or the FTC, Google will only be able to discriminate within the bounds of the rules set by their regulators.
Google because of it’s search and search advertising dominance – not dissimilar to Microsoft’s share of the desktop pc OS market in the late 80′s and early 90′s – holds incredible power over the online ecosystem. Google is a gatekeeper and could become so dominant that it is THE gatekeeper. Some would argue they already are – and as someone who has a lot of experience using Google’s advertising platforms – I would tend to agree. And when someone losses their business because Google decides they don’t like them well you can imagine some companies will fight back the same way Sun, Netscape and Real Networks did against Microsoft.
Be careful Google and enjoy the competitive freedom while it lasts.