Google: A Relatively Small Company Vulnerable to Competition
Slide 11 from Wagner’s presentation.
In the face of three government antitrust investigations, Google’s “senior competition counsel,” Dana Wagner, is trying to persuade the world that its competition is just a click away:
[T]he boyish, 33-year-old Mr. Wagner [is] a former antitrust lawyer at the Justice Department who drops words like “goofy” and “whacky” with an aw-shucks grin into discussions of complex legal and economic issues. In contrast to Microsoft a decade ago, whose executives would rarely hide their disdain for regulators, Mr. Wagner speaks of his former colleagues at the Justice Department in deferential tones.
“They definitely care about doing the right things for users and consumers,” he said. “My company cares about doing the right things for users and consumers.”
Mr. Wagner’s job has not been easy. The slides he uses in his presentations have been circulating long enough that Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group that is critical of Google, has posted an annotated version of them that disputes nearly every one of Google’s assertions.
The truth is, when it comes to revenue, Google is a one trick pony. Online advertising is it. ( Google captures 70 percent share of search ad revenue and about 30 percent all online advertising.) For all the cool projects coming out of Google Labs, none makes money.
Google makes it easy for customers to switch to competitor’s products and, unlike other technology giants in years past, the company has not been accused of anti competitive tactics.
There’s no law against trouncing your business competitors. Ever since Judge Learned Hand’s landmark decision in U.S. v. Aluminum Co. of America 64 years ago, the court has recognized that under certain circumstances a company may come to dominate its field through “superior skill, foresight, and industry.”
It’s hard to see Google as anything other than a model example of such a company. After scarcely 10 years in business, it’s revolutionized advertising, offered countless valuable tools available to the public for free, and made the Internet vastly more accessible. It has also done a great job promoting open-source and competition online. Even as [Obama antitrust chief Christine] Varney branded Google a monopoly last year [see here and here], she praised it for its “spectacular” innovation and “terrific work.”
Horwitz goes on to concisely summarizes those three government antitrust investigations mentioned above:
One of the government’s antitrust reviews looks into Google’s book scanning settlement—a deal that was already approved by a court and was forced by publishers. Another investigates a mild overlap between Google’s and Apple’s boards of directors—a situation that could easily be fixed by a resignation, assuming any court thought it was a problem. A third has just become public, focusing on whether Google and other leading tech firms have been shying away from stealing one another’s most talented employees. None of the concerns threatens Google’s core business or suggests a dastardly plot.