Indeed, Katz accuses Google, “effectively, a monopoly,” of “bend[ing] the rules,” and using “sophisticated algorithms weighted in favor of its own products and services at the expenses of search results that are truly most relevant” – and in the process “effectively punish[ing] its competitors.”
Google got an early start in the search engine business and has consistently performed better than any other firm. That’s why it accounts for such a large market share. Every day, millions of people “ping” Google for useful information – whether it be the title of a book, the location of some obscure village in Hungary, the availability of flights to Hawaii, or the prices of appliances in the immediate area.
That Google might give more prominence to companies that provide it with advertising should not come as a shock to anyone. Are you shocked when you look in the Yellow Pages under “tires” and find that some companies are featured over others – and learn that these companies have purchased advertising? Does that disabuse you of the notion that Yellow Pages can be a valuable source of information? Contrary to Katz, there are no “rules” against this sort of thing, anymore than there are “rules” prohibiting Yellow Pages from featuring companies who advertise.
What Katz has in mind is to knee-cap Google by turning it into a public utility. He insists that Google be transparent about how its search engine operates and not hide “behind forked-tongued gobbledygook.” Second, that Google provide consumers with “unbiased access.” And third, that Google “grant all companies equal access to advertising opportunities” in order to provide “a level playing field.”
Who would say when there is enough transparency? And would that require publishing proprietary algorithms? Who would say when “access” is “unbiased?” And who would decide when there was equal access to advertising? Some lawyers in the Department of Commerce? In the Department of Justice? At the FTC? A federal judge? You are really asking for trouble.
The IT industry developed in this country at such a phenomenal rate and has served consumers so well not because governments treated companies as public utilities, but because they left them alone – to do “practically anything they please[d],” in Katz’s language. Would you really have it any other way?
Miller was FTC chairman from October 1981 to October 1985 and Oliver was FTC chairman from April 1986 to August 1989. Both are advisers to Google but the ideas are their own.