There is a fine line between being an extraordinarily successful corporation and a monopoly. Some people in the justice department (not to mention competing corporations like Microsoft) think Google crossed over that line long ago. They argue that the search giant, which is responsible for about 2/3rds of all online searches and now owns YouTube as well, is so big that it is now unfair to consumers. Watchdog groups are quick to bring up Ma Bell and Microsoft when they cast their accusations at Google, but does the little-search-engine-that-could really deserve it?
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Dan Wagner, senior competition counsel at Google, doesn't think so. And he's spent the last few months tirelessly defending his employers in a series of speeches targeted at reporters, politicians, and members of the tech industry. The New York Times reported that groups like Consumer Watchdog and corporate rivals like Microsoft have wasted no time in attacking Wagner's assertions.
Wagner states that Google has achieved its lofty position by consistently offering high-quality products. Innovation is the core of their business model, and any company that can out-innovate them can beat them. Opponents of Google contend that actions like the purchase of YouTube point towards monopolistic desires, and that Google's sheer size makes it impossible for competitors to reach consumers.
One of the major issues of evaluating Google is that its main product, the Google search engine, is 100% free to use. No matter what engine a consumer chooses, they aren't paying any money directly to the engine's owner. Search engines make their money from ad revenue, so how do you tell when they are getting close to monopoly status?
As a consumer, I know that I have a variety of options when choosing a search engine. But that doesn't stop me from going to www.Google.com whenever I need to search for something. The fact that its use has become a reflexive process makes Google uniquely different from every other anti-trust case that's come up in the past. While it is possible to target their acquisition of YouTube through conventional means, challenging Google on search engine supremacy is going to require wading through some heavy gray areas.
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A legal battle is brewing right now that has the potential to shape how we use and view the Internet for decades to come. The actions that Google and her opponents take now will echo in eternity...or at least in cyberspace.