The day after EU regulators charged Google with massive antitrust violations, The New York Times carried a front-page story that said the campaign against Google in Europe was being substantially financed by Microsoft.
Putting aside the fact that this is at least partly true, it is, as well, the story being shopped by Google executives and PR staffers: It’s us against the bad people who want to pull us down.
The Times offered a neat package of Google messaging. In addition to the Microsoft back story, a Time commentary argued that given the fast pace of innovation among tech companies, antitrust prosecution is a hopelessly Luddite approach to leveling the market — technology itself creates a leveled playing field! Another maintained that although Europe is always trying to throw sand in the face of U.S. tech companies, it doesn’t matter, because they grow ever more powerful anyway.
As it happens, a lesson that Google has clearly learned from Microsoft is that Europe can be a scary place for large technology companies. Google is now dominant and Microsoft a shadow of its former self, in part because it was waylaid by long-running European legal challenges.
The other lesson that Google has clearly learned from Microsoft’s failures is that this is as much a PR battle as a legal one. Microsoft, wherever it went, was the nasty, unstoppable and lethal Goliath, gaining no sympathy in any quarter. Google, as nasty, unstoppable and lethal as Microsoft, understands the vast benefits of being, if only through the looking glass, the highest example of innovation and forward-thinking. Europe, and anyone who would get in its way, is the past, and Google — and you don’t want to miss this train — the obvious future.
Much of the world, including the world’s media, once happily aligned against evil-empire Microsoft.
Google’s bet now is that the world is a different place: the bias is actually for hegemonic tech companies instead of against them. Google is likely more dominant than Microsoft, both in the market and in the lives of its users, but that may well be to its benefit.
In this, it rightly recognizes, as Microsoft never quite did, that the fight is far from strictly an antitrust battle, not a technical one anyway, but about the nature of technology itself. Do you want to limit it, and in some sense resist it, or do you want to trust it, give it free reign and, in some sense, revel in it? Google’s growth, along with much of the technology industry, is, of course, based on exactly that lack of limitations. Doubt is not good for technology. Tech needs to be in front of the law and not restricted by it.
Skepticism about technology has always been the prevalent liberal position and the one that defeated Microsoft. But Google’s hunch is that a new appreciation and tolerance for tech is now the progressive, right-thinking view. Or it is among a growing and powerful new constituency of the progressive and right thinking.
Google’s base of possible partisans is much larger than Microsoft’s was in the 1990s, when tech was still a largely vertical business. The Google solar system now includes a vast range of businesses and activities in which dependence on Google is taken for granted and comfortable, and for which competition would be disagreeable and disruptive. Part of the European complaint focuses on Google’s insistence that Android systems use Google apps, but the Times, in its coverage of the antitrust charges, baldly argued the benefits of product integration, pointing out how much more sophisticated we’ve come in our understanding of the benefits of integration since Microsoft’s unpopular inclusion of its own browser, Explorer, in its systems.
Indeed, the Times itself, along with many media organizations, represents a strong example of a kind of lockstep Google universe — or, actually, the way Google’s ubiquitous power has undermined its traditional opposition. Many of the Google practices singled out by the EU regulators adversely effect traditional media companies, including the way it “scrapes” sites, and the nature of the way it limits access to other advertising sellers and buyers. Various media companies in Europe, including News Corp., have filed complaints with the antitrust commission.
And yet, the overwhelming U.S. editorial bias, of which the Times provided a vivid example last week, is, arguably, not just on the side of Google but for the idea that it is a tech-led world. Winners appreciate this, losers — including many of the media organizations that employee people propounding this new view — don’t.
In a broader sense, that’s become the U.S. view as a whole, and part of the reason Europe has acted: Because there is no longer a business or political will in the U.S. to oppose Google or the tech industry. (U.S. regulators closed a case against Google involving similar charges to the European case two years ago.)
And in many ways, the European charges do feel like a last gasp of some aging sensibility and peculiar insistence on conventional norms, all quite discordant and downright annoying, in a transformed world, a Google world.
In that sense, as Google and its partisans believe, it is way too late to try to turn back the clock and just another example of not getting it that regulators (a word uttered with great scorn) might see Google’s extraordinary hegemony, however greater than Microsoft’s of 20 years ago, as somehow as dangerous as Microsoft’s.
In another sense, this may be the last opportunity to govern what so far has proven quite ungovernable.
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1yJ5ST0