60 Minutes segment: Google is a monopoly without question
The segment promotes an image of the company as thuggish and market-manipulating.
In last night’s widely anticipated “60 Minutes” segment on Google, the program asks, “How Did Google Get So Big?” The answer the interviewees generally give is: by engaging in illegal manipulation of search results in an effort to defeat competitors and promote its own content.
One of the interviewees, Google critic and antitrust lawyer Gary Reback, argues that Google is a monopoly without question. He says during the segment that the company has a “mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.”
Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman is another featured interviewee who gives journalist Steve Kroft a tour through Google’s local search results. Stoppelman argues that if you’re seen as competitive by Google the company “will snuff you out.” He also contends that in the current climate, it wouldn’t be possible today to build Yelp.
The segment also features a discussion with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who asserts Europe’s unequivocal position that Google has engaged in illegal, anti-competitive conduct and “has proof.” But perhaps the most damning part of the piece details the 2011 Justice Department/FTC antitrust investigation of Google.
Kroft cites passages from the internal FTC/DOJ report that recommends bringing an antitrust case against Google. The segment then suggests that lobbying and “close ties to the Obama administration” prevented a formal action from going forward. (The case was settled with Google agreeing to change some of its practices.)
Critics will see the segment as truthful and justified. However, there’s a more nuanced story that the medium of TV may be incapable of telling.
Kroft explains that Google declined to be interviewed on camera, but he offers several prepared statements, including that the company “has many competitors including Amazon and Facebook [and that] it does not make changes to its algorithm to disadvantage competitors.”
It’s strange that there were no on-camera interviews with experts who might have presented a somewhat different perspective: that Google grew in part by delivering what consumers want and doing a better job than many (but not all) of its competitors. There was also no discussion of products where Google has largely failed or where its products are also-rans (e.g., social, messaging, video calling). That’s what was missing.
This is not to say that concerns about concentration of market power in any one company aren’t entirely valid. But the picture that emerged from the segment was one of a giant corporation conspiring, scheming and manipulating the market for its own revenue gain.
The reality is much more complicated.
The video and full transcript can be found here.
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