27 Nov 2023

Google: The monopoly we don't want to live without

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 27 November 2023

When a company gets as big and as integrated into our lives as Google, how far can it intrude into our personal lives before we draw the line between harm and inconvenience? 

FRANCE, PARIS, 2023-06-14. VivaTech, Vivatechnology 2023 is the global meeting place for start-ups and tech leaders. At the Porte de Versailles in Paris, the innovation fair. Business, but especially AI, artificial intelligence has all the sauces. About 2,400 start-ups, from around thirty countries and institutional investors and large groups.
FRANCE, PARIS, 2023-06-14. VivaTech, Viva Technology 2023 c est le rendez-vous mondial des start-up et leaders de la tech. A la Porte de Versailles de Paris le salon des innovations. Business, mais surtout l IA, de l’intelligence artificielle a toutes les sauces. Environ 2.400 start-up, originaires d’une trentaine de pays et des investisseurs institutionnels et de grands groupes. GOOGLE.
Photography by Riccardo Milani / Hans Lucas (Photo by Riccardo Milani / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP)

The US Department of Justice alleges that Google is cutting search engine competitors out of the market. Photo: AFP

We use it to ask our most pressing questions about life and the universe, get directions to the latest pizza joint...

... and, of course, we can use it to find the latest episode of The Detail.

We also give it a great many details about our personal life – where we live, what we buy, and where we browse.

Google is so ubiquitous in so many places around the world, it's small wonder an anti-trust trial in the US could have big implications for its use in Aotearoa. 

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) claims Google acts as a monopoly, illegally paying billions of dollars to Apple, Samsung, LG and others to make Google the default search engine on phones and computers.

The DOJ says this cuts other players, mainly Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo, out of the market.

Its anti-trust case was launched against the search engine giant in 2020, and oral arguments have just wrapped up. Next year, both sides will have to present written arguments, and in May, there will be closing arguments before a decision is made.  

Most of the court hearings over the last few months have been playing out behind closed doors, as Google successfully argued making it public could disclose trade secrets.

But what might happen when the case is over?

Auckland University professor of experimental economics Ananish Chaudhuri says while it's speculative, the DOJ could essentially break up Google into two companies.

One option, Chaudhuri says, is the creation of one company concerned with Google's search engine, and another company that manages the advertisements that appear in searches.

"I think that's unlikely.

"The second possibility ... the government could say, 'we'll let Google continue as a monopoly but it will be regulated to some extent ... they cannot charge whatever price they wish to charge' ... some government agency will have oversight over what price is being charged."  

There can be no argument that Google is on top of the world, with 88 percent of internet searches undertaken using its search engine. 

"Bing has seven percent," says Chaudhuri, "Yahoo has less than four percent, and DuckDuckGo, which is a relatively new entrant, has less than two percent."

"Every time you're searching, Google is now showing you ads. Every time you click on an ad, Google earns money, and in turn, Google shares some of that revenue with the companies that provide Google.

"For instance – on an Android phone, on the screen itself, there is a bar for a Google search."

Chaudhuri says Google's response to accusations it's using its deep pockets to crush rivals "would be that 'yes, we're a monopoly because we are the best out there ... it's the quality of our product which makes these people put Google on there'.

Of course, whatever happens will have implications for how we use Google in a day-to-day way in New Zealand – far and away our most-used search engine, carrying out about 95 percent of our internet queries.

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