Baby Googles: The answer to the Chocolate Factory dominance?
There are alternatives. We discuss a few...
Lawyer Jeremy Phillips of the useful and fun IPKat blog floats an interesting idea. Google won't reform or be chastened, he writes. We should consider breaking up Google into a number of "Baby Googles" – just as AT&T was once broken up into a number of "Baby Bells".
"It is effectively impossible for any other business to compete with the combination of forces – Google Book, Chrome, YouYube, AdWord and AdSense – which together will inexorably drive so much individualised information into its marketing and advertising facilities that no other electronic or printed media will be remotely able to provide value for the money advertisers are prepared to spend in marketing their goods and services."
There are merits and drawbacks to this, and similar proposals were floated 10 years ago, when Microsoft faced corporate dismemberment. But whatever remedy may eventually be imposed, there may ultimately be a complementary solution that's far simpler. And it's one Google could help itself by thinking about.
Before we do that, let's quickly recap what the latest antitrust complaint from Microsoft entails. Readers of a certain vintage may permit themselves a chuckle or two – but every case should be taken on its merits.
According to Brad Smith, Google abuses its monopoly position in six ways. Google blocks access to content owned by book publishers; it blocks both search engines and non-Google mobile clients from accessing YouTube on equal terms; and it prevents advertisers from accessing valuable data, as well as several more abuses. (Smith's fifth and sixth points are actually several, such as demoting the prominence of would-be competitors).
There's another way of looking at it which doesn't negate the calls for corporate restructuring. It's best summarised as: You get what you pay for.
Google is tied to one specific revenue model, and Google's dominance represents its excellence at exploiting this one particular revenue model: monetising free stuff through advertising. Almost all of the internet today is based on this, and with it, the absence of paying content markets. While there are occasional success stories (you're reading one now, for example), that have flourished in free-through-ads, to propose that this is all we'll ever have – free via ads – is simply not credible. The internet's reliance on "free" is really a sign of its immaturity.
It has other consequences. The reason companies such as Google and Facebook are so cavalier with our personal data is because they're chained to this model. So instead of treating us like customers, they peer down their microscopes for behavioural traces we leave behind. Huge amounts of personal data are traded and spliced. That's a direct consequence of free.
So when, today, Google paints itself as the embodiment of everything good people think about the internet (and by this false reasoning an attack on the company becomes an attack on the internet itself), politicians and policy-makers BS detectors should prick up.
For the internet to mature technically and economically, it needs many more revenue models than free-via-ads, and this represents the most promising opportunity Google has to sidestep antitrust concerns. It would mean a whole new Google, but the antitrust authorities may ultimately decide that this is what's needed anyway.