Ex-FTC Officials Remind Current FTC Officials That They're Supposed To Protect Consumers, Not Competitors
from the important-point dept
Two former FTC chairs, James Miller and Daniel Oliver, have written an opinion piece chiding the current FTC for its antitrust investigation into Google. As we’ve noted in the past, politicians seem to be going after Google simply because it’s a convenient target that’s big, and not because of any clear harm for consumers. Some Google competitors don’t like Google very much, but that’s no reason to call out the antitrust guns:
Antitrust is for consumer welfare, not competitor welfare.
In the Reagan years, we were always suspicious of whining competitors. We were suspicious because our view of antitrust law, shaped by Robert Bork and other scholars, was, and still is, that antitrust law should maximize the welfare of consumers, not of competitors.
Has anyone heard consumers complaining about Google? We have not, probably because consumers are under no pressure to use Google. They do so because they get what they want from Google, and they get it for free.
Furthermore, they point out just how quickly things change in the online world:
When Google was started in 1998, Yahoo was the dominant search engine — by far. Today Yahoo struggles to survive. Only a few years ago, Microsoft seemed a giant, standing astride the digital world. Today its business model is threatened, the competitive marketplace shifting under its feet from licensed software to cloud-based computing. Last year’s hot IPOs — Yelp, LinkedIn, and Groupon — didn’t even exist five years ago.
I would have no problem with the FTC going after Google if there were significant evidence of consumer harm, but no one seems to be able to show that there is any. At all. They just show that Google is big. But, big companies online seem to have a way of fading quickly… mainly by missing the next big thing. Already, we’ve seen Google struggle (multiple times) to compete with Facebook on social networking, which is taking over a bigger and bigger part of online life (and shielding much of that content from Google). So, once again, we have to ask why there’s such a focus on investigating Google these days, other than because some competitors don’t like competing.