The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a lawsuit against Google on Oct. 20 due to alleged violations of antitrust laws. Experts say the lawsuit could change how we understand Big Tech companies and use technology.
“A lot of people are concerned about the concentration of power that Google has,” said Texas A&M University Professor Kirby Goidel of the Department of Communication. “Although one can say that Google has not been awful in how they use their power, that doesn’t mean they can’t be.”
Over the past decade Google has engaged in what the DOJ calls “anti-company” practices as well as unlawful exclusionary contracts and bundling. This means that rather than creating a more diverse market and allowing for technological innovations, Google has prevented other companies from entering the industry by buying and eliminating start-ups.
“The process in which Big Tech companies acquire start-ups and eliminate the competition is called ‘killer acquisitions,’” said economics professor Fernando Luco. “This will damage consumers because the acquisition is done to kill an idea or project in the hopes to prevent future competition.”
Along with eliminating competition and innovation, Google has acquired almost limitless amounts of information from its users. Google is a conglomerate that works with other Big Tech companies, including Apple, Mozilla many others. These partnerships ensure that the apps make Google the default browser while also blocking competitors. This also allows Google to promote their own advertisements first.
“Approximately 80% of searches nowadays are done through Google, which encourages advertisers to put their ads on Google,” Luco said. “In doing so, most consumers are going to see those ads, allowing Google to get its revenue from the advertisers.”
Not only does the partnership between conglomerates and advertisers eliminate competition, but it creates a bias that raises questions about Google’s responsibility in spreading misinformation. Goidel said Google being a content aggregator and not a content creator allows for the spread of misinformation since it permits everyone the freedom to post whatever they want and label it as ‘news,’ with little to no intervention. Therefore, this lawsuit forces people to analyze Google’s effect on the public when it comes to obtaining information.
“People are intentionally using the internet to misinform people and pass on misinformation, making it look like fact or real news,” Goidel said. “We don’t want the government to control information, but on the other hand there needs to be some regulation… for democracy to work, we need informed citizens, but how do we do that given the freedom of technologies like Google, and whether or not we’ve been informed correctly?”
Although the lawsuit is relatively new, Professor Jonathan Coopersmith, a historian of technology, said that there have been a number of antitrust cases in which the government argued that tech companies were harming their consumers. For example, in 1998, Microsoft was sued for breaking antitrust laws, becoming a monopoly due to its ability to force out all other competitors illegally.
“In the case of Google, the theory is that even though consumers don’t pay anything directly, consumers are still ‘losing out,’” Coopersmith said. “There’s less competition, fewer choices and fewer innovative and decently priced products, creating a less-competitive market.”
Currently, 11 states, including Texas, have filed similar complaints against Google. However, America is lagging behind in addressing the threat of Big Tech.
“Europe has been going at Google for some time and has been far more aggressive than the U.S.,” Goidel said. “They forced Google to pay billions of dollars for their behavior because Google isn’t giving consumer’s the choice by being the automatic default.”
And Google might be standing in the way of the future.
“By reducing the dominance of Google, the hope is that new search engines are going to show up for privacy-concerned people that want to look for other types of search engines for specific types of consumers or search engines that target specific products,” Luco said.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, experts say it is important to maintain a competitive market so that consumers have choices and are able to obtain the best products.
“This is a worldwide concern,” Coopersmith said. “Who should control what’s out there? It’s a perpetual challenge with any technology and this lawsuit will question what the appropriate limits and forces are when both shaping existing technologies and encouraging new technologies and competitors to come up.”