Is Google Antitrust Investigation Simply A Repeat Of Wasteful Microsoft Antitrust Effort?

from the seems-like-it dept

I haven't written anything about the ongoing FTC investigation of Google, because the details are still a bit iffy, but Charlotte Kiang points us to a piece she wrote up comparing the investigation of Google to the similar antitrust legal fight against Microsoft a little over a decade ago. In that case, the evidence of Microsoft's "predatory" practices seemed a hell of a lot stronger than anything against Google, but the key point that the article makes is that in the rapidly changing tech world, what may seem like a dominant position is pretty difficult to keep in the marketplace. For example, the crux of the government's argument against Microsoft was in how it offered up Internet Explorer bundled with Windows, and that was somehow unfair. And yet, the failure of Microsoft to invest much in IE for years resulted in Firefox, Chrome and Safari taking away significant market share, simply by competing. While I understand the political pressure against Google, I'm at a loss to see how its actions have harmed consumers, and it's nice to see some others pointing that out.


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  1.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 1st, 2011 @ 11:20pm

    Relevant

    I believe there is a lot to say about government regulation. The fact is, it doesn't work. At all. The rules are outdated and archaic, the government could be doing something else, and in the end, it's open to corruption faster than moldy bread in a garbage can.

    The odds are, the rules brought against Microsoft for its position in the 90s are going to be rules against Google now. But what purpose does the regulation serve? It exposes a problem, but if anything, it never gets fixed. And that's with all branches of government.

    Look at the Bilski patent issue for the Judicial branch.
    Look at the growing number of laws enacted against people and corporations (DMCA, PIPA, S978) for the Legislative.
    Look at Operation In Our Sites for the Executive.

    The better thing from a governmental perspective would be to compete, which is what a majority of voters actually want anyway. While the report has a paywall, Reason.com has the stats. The sad part is, we know about competition needing to be increased. It's our very government with the belief in regulation on all fronts (FCC, Obama's Czar program, etc) that continues to get in the way.

     

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    Ed C., Aug 1st, 2011 @ 11:56pm

    Huh?

    The antitrust case against Microsoft had a lot more to do with how it bullied OEMs into only bundling Windows. The browser issue was merely about how Microsoft had then used that OS monopoly as leverage by bundling their browser to dominate that market as well.

     

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    Michael Lockyear (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 12:02am

    Tall poppy syndrome

    I am a cynic - I believe that governments targets companies that become too uppity. (Apple should be concerned as well).

    I love Google, and would happily pay for their products if I had to...it saddens me that they might be distracted by this sort of action. (like Microsoft and IBM before them).

    It also surprises me that the American people let their government subsidize and bail-out broken industries (banks, GM, etc), while at the same time undermining the businesses that are successful. Up until now America has been lucky that they have been able to come up with the "next big thing" - I am not sure that this will always be the case.

     

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    wheels4me2 (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 12:20am

    Google anti-trust

    The politicians got what they wanted from M$ -- massive donations from new hi-tech PACs. Now it is Googles turn to hire a bunch more ex-pol lobbyists.

    Now if the pols ever figure out how monetize the patent wars, the cash will really pour like tidal wave.

     

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  5.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 12:22am

    Re: Relevant

    Without regulation, free markets would not remain free. Abuses like monopoly, collusion, price-fixing, predatory pricing, false advertising, and just-plain fraud, do not regulate themselves.

     

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    Nicedoggy, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 3:12am

    Re: Re: Relevant

    True there is a middle ground there somewhere though.

     

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    Alatar, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 3:31am

    Comparing two very different things

    Let's compare two procedure to know in which case there's an antitrust issue.

    I) Buying a PC with another OS than MSWin

    Scenario : you already own a Windows Licence, or are under a MSDN program, or want to use another OS, or a million other reasons for which you wouldn't like to pay the extra "windows tax" on a PC.

    Method :
    - Look in stores and on the Internet : oh, you can buy no PC without the Windows OS bundled.
    - Bad solution : ask whether you can at least have the licence refunded after buying and paying for it : impossible.
    - Worse solution : with some rare manufacturers (like Acer in some cases), you can send your PC back to the manufacturer (yes, your brand new PC, you stil cant use it. Pack it, pay shipping and send it back to them). This supposes you already restricted your manufacturer choice (and then your consumer's choice) to some manufacturer(s) only, because of effing imposed software. Then they will uninstall the OS and send it back to you after two weeks. And will grant you a wonderful check of something like $20 (although they billed you a lot more for the OS when you bought the PC, as hardware margins are very small). That was supposed to be the "best-case scenario"...

    II) Want to use another search engine on the web

    Scenario : You want to use another search engine, not Google
    Method : open your browser, type "ixquick.com" instead of "google.com" in the adress bar and you're good to go!

    Can you see the difference, guys from the FTC?

     

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    The eejit (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 3:41am

    Re: Comparing two very different things

    They can, but they're pai^H^H^H^H "encouraged" not to.

     

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    CarlWeathersForPres, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:06am

    Re: Huh?

    Also, in the bundling of IE with windows they made it so that if you deleted IE you'd delete key functions of windows so it wouldn't properly function. Windows effectively killed netscape out with its practices, and the emergence of all these other programs didn't really occur until after the case(2001).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:32am

    End of Google?

    Gov't goes after IBM for anti trust. Finally gives up/settles as IBM is about to go under when they totally miss the move away from mainframes.

    Gov't goes after MS (with Netscape urging) for anti trust in browsers. Finally gives up/settles as MS becomes basically irrelevant in browsers. And they're on the way out in the OS business - surviving only on inertia.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:43am

    Re: Re: Huh?

    I don't buy the "Microsoft killed Netscape" argument. If your a software company and you can't convince someone to spend the 5mins it takes to install your product, then you have either a quality or advertising problem.

    If MS killed Netscape then why is it that firefox and chrome have done so well when they operate under the same market conditions?

     

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    leichter (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:44am

    Cause and Effect?

    "We spent millions to put in that new safety system, and it's been totally wasted - we haven't had an accident in two years!"

    It's very nice to say that "the free market" eliminated Microsoft IE's near-monopoly on browsers - but it's a misreading of history. No real "free market" existed, either before or after the change.

    *Before* the change, Microsoft made a number of monopolistic moves. Windows represented virtually the entire PC market, and was impossible to attack: The deal offered to hardware vendors by Microsoft was "If you want a reasonable price for Windows, you have to agree to pay *per unit shipped*, whether a unit has Windows on it or not." Windows itself had IE6 embedded. You could, if you were technically adept, install another browser - but IE6 had to stay, because various other pieces of Windows (deliberately) relied on it.

    *After* the change, Microsoft was under government scrutiny and regulation. They were forced to modify Windows to yank out dependencies on IE. More important, they were forced to offer users a choice of browsers during installation. There was no user demand for any of this, because the majority of users never even knew there was an issue.

    If you look at things strictly from the point of government regulation, the market was "free" before the anti-trusts moves, and what Microsoft did was simply sharp-elbowed competition. That's a principled position, if one not shared by most people. You can argue, purely on market theory grounds, that Microsoft's moves were, in the long run, going to leave an opening for competitors to take the market from them. What you *can't* argue is that IE6's decline *proves* that pure market competition would have been sufficient - because it wasn't pure market competition that did the trick.

    -- Jerry

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:58am

    Re: Comparing two very different things

    Or look for a pc with linux installed OR build your own box. Both of those options work.

    In the past I've always been able to build cheaper than you could buy, but I'm not talking about the dirt cheap low end, more the middle tier (Machines with discrete graphics, faster memory and middle tier amd processors)

    These days, to me its not even about price anymore, but control, I have a 1tb hd and upper middle end PSU and decent case, so I don't need to spend on that stuff, and I should be able to upgrade to an 8 core bulldozer for around $600. (Or less) Not sure that when zambezi comes out you will even be able to buy a complete amd 8 core for less. (Figuring up to $300 per processor up to $200 for mobo and $100 for memory, and that's the high end)

    I can't beat the $300 pc anymore, though. But those machines aren't it for me.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 5:18am

    Re: Re: Huh?

    No, no, no. Netscape killed Netscape. It became a bloated peace of crap that made IE5 look good. This may have been due to the AOL buyout.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Relevant

    Maybe, maybe not. But one only has to look to see that it's many of the most regulated industries (at least under the current system) that are most abusive to one or more topics on your list. Regulation without meaningful oversight is just that, meaningless. One only has to look at a Bear Sterns or Fannie Mae as examples of that.

     

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  16.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 5:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Relevant

    Fannie and Freddie isn't even regulation. They were private entities with government "oversight". It had fail written all over it.

    And Barney Frank endorsed it.

    It's only a matter of time before they do the same thing yet again.

     

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  17.  
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    Alatar, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 5:48am

    Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    That classic answer "if you dont want windows, build your machine from scratch"...
    I tend to use more laptops than PCs, and except Clevo, no big name will sell you a laptop without win.
    And anyway, I don't want to have my hardware choice restricted just because those manufacturers can't understand how hardware and software are different.
    I wish buying any PC without windows was as easy as "do not check the $100 windows option", because avoiding Google is as easy as this : typing a different adress in your browser.

     

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  18.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 5:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    "This may have been due to the AOL buyout."

    AOHell... Is there anything they can't mess up?

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 6:25am

    Once again, Mike's, corporatist premises burst out.

    Just in the title.

    Antitrust Investigation Is Never Wasteful.

    Here's Google creeping toward INVASIVE MONOPOLY.
    http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/28/google-page-speed-service/

    And don't forget that Google's true purpose is SPY AGENCY.

    WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE FOR GOOGLE, MIKE? And how with today's corporatized gov't would you do it IF you did think it became a problem?

    Only way is to STOP MONOPOLY EARLY AND OFTEN.

     

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  20.  
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    Paul`, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 6:35am

    Re: Tall poppy syndrome

    $50bn in the bank, Apple don't have to worry about much.

     

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    Paul`, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 6:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Doesn't Dell ship with linux if you request it?

     

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  22.  
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    under_the_green, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 6:41am

    Re: Once again, Mike's, corporatist premises burst out.

    blue: "OH NO! I MUST DISAGREE WITH MIKE AT ALL COSTS! EVEN IF IT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE A COMPLETE FOOL! I CANNOT POSSIBLY ADMIT THAT HE COULD EVER BE RIGHT ABOUT ANYTHING! OR THAT I COULD EVER BE WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING! I MAKE CLAIMS AND I DON'T CARE ABOUT PROOF OR DATA OR EVIDENCE OF ANY KIND! I JUST LIKE THROWING THINGS OUT WITHOUT BACKING THEM UP! WAAAHHH!!!"

    Just paraphrasing you there, blue. We all know your schtick by now, so might as well drop it. You're not accomplishing anything.

     

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  23.  
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    Alatar, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 6:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    It depends on the country you're in.
    Assuming you're in a country in which they do it, you have to choose the product (usually there's only one you can buy with Ubuntu, for example in France it was the studio 10", shortly). And once you agreed to move to the right country and choose that very specific PC, you will be charged a higher price than the same product with Windows.

    Again, compare that with using another search engine, and you'll see where the antitrust case is.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Re: Comparing two very different things

    Alatar, here's the problem: It isn't just Google the search engine.

    It's Google the mail program, google the ad program, google the social network, google the browser, google the os, google the maps, google network transit, google wireless, and so on. There is so much Google that if you tried to intentionally avoid them, you would have a very hard time. All the while, they are tracking your movements and tailoring the ad results and such you will get even if you don't want them to.

    Google is pretty much unavoidable now online, they are a dominant force. It's how Google+ has reached at least 5% of the facebook market in a short period of time, and growing fast. It is very likely that at some time in the future, Google+ may be a serious rival in size to FB, and at the same time challenge twitter in some ways as well.

    Also, because of their cash rich situation, Google is going down the same road as Microsoft, buying up whatever they don't create that might be useful to them.

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    It's a very nuanced argument, to be fair.

    First, you should be aware of Micrisoft's expand, extend, extinguish strategy.

    First, they expand their operations into a new area that already has competition. They integrate all their products with said area, and welcome everyone to help expand further.

    Then they use that to extend. They outright steal innovation & code to extend that area and create new business; And prevent the extensions from working anywhere but on their product.

    Then they extinguish, and stop the extensions from working with anything but base microsoft product, killing off all the devs and apps that microsoft needed to expand into the territory to begin with.

    So, with netscape, it wasn't just the install time, but every click you made to open a link or anything, would open IE. Even clicking on links in netscape. And of course, IE is on every windows computer.
    Once that was established, they extended past the standards and encouraged everyone to build on them to create new stuff. Then they locked down the libraries needed to do so, and built them straight into IE. They also locked down a ton of other things related to it in the windows API, so that if you wanted to do the same things, you had to use crappy workarounds and inefficient methods.
    As a result, key functions of the system were completely within the IE structure, so you can't even uninstall the damn thing without crashing windows.

    At that point, you can't just go back to the old standards. Consumers and webmasters expect all the stuff that everyone used to be able to provide, and now only IE can.

    In order to provide those functions, netscape had to take on a lot of crappy workarounds. And so yes, it became slow and crappy. On windows.


    I believe the result was IE 5 or IE 6? I'm sure pretty much everyone here who has ever made a webpage can verify that if you make a page for IE5/6, it will work for no other browser.

    And IE6 is still in use today, because microsoft was rolling out corporate licenses and anti-viruses, and other tolls and stuff to promote IE6, and a lot of those companies still haven't changed. After they sold all that, they didn't really care to capture the consumer market, and stop developing IE at all until more competition came along.

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    That's the argument for it being anti-competitive.


    I'm not really sure what I think of it, other than everything I've heard has been from an interested party/fanboy and almost certainly 100% reality-free.

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Heh, tell me about it. On the site I bought my current PC from, the windows option was labelled +$120, and the ubuntu option +$0, but both worked out to the same price . . .

    OTOH, the option where I picked no hard drive and purchased one separately worked out to $120 less.

     

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  28.  
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    CarlWeathersForPres, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    Netscape was no good, no doubt about it, but Microsoft also intentionally which forced the consumer to always carry IE on their computer(nested critical routines in the IE program so that deletion of IE would cause Windows to not operate properly, and on early versions of windows you weren't allowed to delete IE) as well as forcing AOLs hand through leveraged negotiating(essentially telling AOL that they would make their life miserable to operate on Windows(95% of the market) if they continued with some of the netscape stuff). US v. Microsoft (2001)

    As for a general statement, Anti-trust is just trying to even the marketplace so that each product is a stand alone from the others, so for this case the consumer can make the choice of internet browser independent of what operating system they have. What Microsoft did was tie their IE onto their browser which created an advantage due to their market power, and not due to the actual superiority of their product.

    As for what the feds are looking at, I have no clue. Google seems to be relatively benevolent right now and is content to compete with everyone else without using underhanded tactics. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.

     

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  29.  
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    CarlWeathersForPres, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    The difference is that Google is allowing the consumer to choose which product of theirs that they want to use. Microsoft on the other hand made it so that if you were using Windows(which in the 90's that accounted for almost everyone) then you almost had to run their secondary products.

    Being very good at something is not illegal. Using your market power from other products to influence the buying of consumers is.

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 8:01am

    Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Google is buying up stuff?

    Meanwhile, yes, it's hard to avoid them, but that means they have good products?
    I can use hotmail & google search, I can use myspace and google maps, and if I wanted to stop them tracking me, I only have to block one URL from loading, (urchin tracker).

    Heck, I can open a google account and click on the options button: "Don't track me".


    This is entirely unlike the microsoft/IE situation, (Didn't microsoft win that anyways?), in that it is perfectly possible, in fact, convenient, to use any other service.

    Even the parts that are convenient between google services; Did you know that you can use your openID from your google account to log into anything that accepts openID? Give said 3rd party permission, and it can grab your address book, your preferences & settings, your google docs . . .

    Personally, I use a 3rd party tool to archive everything I have with google onto my hard drive. I trust google, but only a fool goes without backups.

     

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  31.  
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    CarlWeathersForPres, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Microsoft lost the tying of IE to Windows, but other stuff was remanded(and I think they ended up settling).

     

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    ltlw0lf (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    AOHell... Is there anything they can't mess up?

    Free coasters, and bird-scarers, and fun in the microwave. Oh, scratch that...they do mess up the microwave.

    I still have some AOL coasters at home. They haven't messed anything up there yet...in a matter of fact, they have prevented messes. Just wish I could get one that holds my coffee cup from spilling in my car.

     

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    ltlw0lf (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 8:32am

    Re: Tall poppy syndrome

    I am a cynic - I believe that governments targets companies that become too uppity. (Apple should be concerned as well).

    I am confused...how has Google used its marketshare to hurt its competitors, vs. Apple, which is currently suing Amazon for using Appstore, and has sued competitors who have come up with generic platforms which use Apple software. As far as I have seen, Apple is using its marketshare to hurt competitors while Google is just offering platforms that work better than their competitors for little or no cost to the user.

    I think the government has done what it always does...a body without a head...flailing at anything that it thinks needs to be flailed at (or what Microsoft wants them to flail at.)

     

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    ltlw0lf (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Being very good at something is not illegal. Using your market power from other products to influence the buying of consumers is.

    True, but actually, it wasn't using the market power to influence, but force. You install Windows, you used Internet Explorer. You couldn't uninstall Internet Explorer and use Netscape. So in a way, they were forcing you to use Internet Explorer (especially when they imbedded Internet Explorer into other tools which didn't really need Internet Explorer, like Help and MMC.)

    Google makes good stuff, which influences folks to use their stuff, but last time I checked, they didn't force anyone to use google docs if they used gmail or gtalk. I was influenced by their quality products to install and use everything I had, but at no time did they enforce me to install and use any of their products.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    Anti-competitive + monopoly = anti-trust.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: Tall poppy syndrome

    How naive:

    You probably use Google search to find most of the information you read on the internet; you're saying you don't know how Google has hurt its competitors; are you really unable to connect the dots?

    If Google controls the search indexing they can pretty much ensure that any stories about them they really don't like don't stay highly ranked for long.

    They've done all kinds of evil stuff; the problem is that nobody knows about it because . . . they search for all their news and info via Google.

     

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    CarlWeathersForPres, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 9:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Yeah, influence was a little too soft. I think I was trying to find a word that would fit for tying(which is force, and section 2 violation) and leveraging horizontal relationships(section 1 violation). Either way, it's inappropriately using your established market power(which is the key) from one defined product market to influence a separate product market.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 9:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Google forces spyware.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    If you use anything Google, you are tracked. Google is involved in so many different projects, in so many different things, and appears on so many websites in so many ways that it is all but impossible to keep from doing business with them, even if you don't want to.

    Even if you click the "don't track me" button, you are tracked, like it or not.

    Want to have some fun? Make some really weird google searches (like very specific types of networking gear, model name and number) and then close your browser, delete cookies, whatever. Then go out and surf any sites with google ads and see what you get. Shockingly, you will get ads for networking gear.

    You have been tracked. All of your searches. All of your youtube videos, everything. tracked, kept, and noted, logged in or not.

    You can't avoid Google now any more than you could avoid Microsoft in the past.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Yea I noticed that when I got into some specific hobbies and started getting ads I never saw before and wouldn't expect to be so specific. Even when I log into my machine at work I still get the same ads although I don't look at hobby stuff at work. I think because I use gmail on both machines

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 10:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    Elaborate?

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comparing two very different things

    I'm having trouble replicating this result.

     

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    freak (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tall poppy syndrome

    So, if I use bing, or yahoo, or ixquick, or any other search engine, I should be getting tons of results about google's harm, right?

     

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    aikiwolfie (profile), Aug 2nd, 2011 @ 4:58pm

    I thought everybody knew the Google anti-trust investigation was just Microsoft pulling string trying to harm Google? So yes, it's a waste of time.But it's nothing like the Microsoft anti-trust investigation.

    "If you use anything Google, you are tracked. Google is involved in so many different projects, in so many different things, and appears on so many websites in so many ways that it is all but impossible to keep from doing business with them, even if you don't want to."

    So you think nobody else is tracking your movements?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Michael Lockyear (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 4:44am

    Government love other people's money

    Apple has money in the bank...the US government doesn't...I would be concerned :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:41am

    Google Investigation

    WHAT!?!? The REASON Firefox, et al were successful is that the government was successful in getting Microsoft to unbundle (or at least, stop the predatory practices) that were keeping the others from having a competitive posture!!!
    To say they were successful in SPITE of Microsoft's actions is to rewrite history in a very naive way.
    Microsoft being able to lock out everyone else caused them to stop investing in IE (why should they? They were telling everyone they had to use it!); and their inability to react quickly to the government's actions did open the gates for their competitors, but fluffing off the effect of the government's actions is (politely) extremely naive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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