Big Tech is about to experience its Cersei moment, when it learns the difference between influence and power:
This is the moment the U.S. technology superpowers surely knew was coming: The U.S. government is preparing to crawl all over Google to figure out whether it is an abusive monopolist. Google parent company Alphabet Inc. and the other tech giants should be quaking in their fleece vests.
Bloomberg News and other news organizations reported late Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to open an investigation into Google’s compliance with antitrust laws. If it goes forward, an investigation will no doubt be broad, lengthy, messy, and impossible for Google and its investors to predict.
That should terrify Google and every other big technology company — because there’s no guarantee that the antitrust Klieg light will turn on one company alone.
This isn’t Google’s first antitrust rodeo. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2013 closed without further action its own antitrust investigation into whether Google wielded its dominant web search engine like a cudgel to disadvantage rivals, drive up prices for advertisers and ultimately harm consumers. (Google did agree to some voluntary changes.)
And in recent years, the European Union antitrust watchdog imposed billions of dollars in fines after finding antitrust violations, including over how Google conducted business with its Android smartphone software and its internet shopping service. In the U.S. and elsewhere, politicians from all party stripes have sought to attack Google or other tech giants for various perceived sins, including being too big for the good of industry and consumers. Being Google has meant dealing with perennial regulatory and political nightmares.
This latest chapter of “As Google Turns” may have started in January on Capitol Hill. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Bill Barr, now the U.S. attorney general, said to U.S. senators during a confirmation hearing. The DOJ’s chief antitrust enforcer, who represented Google during a merger more than a decade ago, has expressed similar views.
Antitrust investigations are difficult to predict, of course. Once the U.S. government pores over every internal email and business development contract, there’s no telling what it will turn up. If the DOJ moves ahead, it will also be an open invitation for every company or individual with a gripe against Google to pile on, and an investigation will embolden critics of Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants as well.
I’ve certainly got a complaint or two to register against Twitter, just to name one of the Big Tech companies that will be investigated, as do dozens of other individuals of my acquaintance. I think it might even be a good time to sign up for a few of these converged companies specifically in order to get deplatformed. Several of them are clearly dumb enough to continue the very activities that have put them in the DOJ’s sights.
By the way, it will be interesting to see if this serious problem with Google Cloud may have been the cause of everyone’s recent streaming issues. It’s not necessarily SJW action:
Google experienced several major technical problems Sunday that left YouTube down for many users in the US, South America and Europe. The Alphabet-owned search engine company said its tech troubles began at 12.25pm on Sunday. YouTube’s was first reported down at 2.50pm, according to downdetector.com. YouTube, Google Cloud and G Suite services including Gmail were affected, but Google said it believes it has identified the cause of the issue in its cloud network. Some users also said they were having issues with third-party sites and applications including Snapchat, Pokemon Go, Uber, Uber Eats, Vimeo and Discord.