Government Searching For Reasons To Run the Internet
When seeking answers online, where do you typically turn? For many, the immediate response is Google. The ease of typing a question or prompting Siri, which utilizes Google’s search results, has become an integral part of our daily lives. Yet, while we effortlessly enjoy this digital convenience, the federal government is meticulously examining our search engine preferences, signaling an intent to influence how we access information.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Google, currently working its way through the court system, underscores the government’s ambition to reshape how the internet works.
The government’s primary argument hinges on Google’s market share in the search market, deeming it a potential cause for concern and intervention. The government argues that Google’s market dominance isn’t merely a byproduct of its superior service. Instead, they allege that Google employs tactics that suppress competition. Specifically, they say that Google doesn’t support competitors like Microsoft’s Bing and DuckDuckGo and that their agreement to be the default search engine on iPhones is unfair.
But are these actions genuinely anti-competitive? It’s worth noting that consumers retain the ability to modify their default search engine on any device, be it a smartphone or a laptop, within mere moments and at zero cost. Drawing a parallel from the business world, Google’s strategy of paying for default search engine status is akin to Coca-Cola securing prime shelf space in a supermarket. It’s a play for visibility and accessibility, not an attempt to curtail consumer choices.
However, the lawsuit’s implications transcend the specifics of Google’s business operations. It asks a more important question: Should mere success in delivering products that consumers desire invite government intervention?
For the past fifty years, the guiding principle in such deliberations has been the consumer welfare standard. This pivotal benchmark in antitrust cases stipulates that for a company to violate antitrust laws, it must not only establish a monopoly but also exploit this monopoly to the detriment of consumers.
Given that Google provides a suite of services at no charge to consumers, coupled with the ease with which users can switch to an alternative search engine, it’s difficult to argue that Google is inflicting consumer harm. The widespread preference for Google’s search engine is a testament to its superior product quality, a product that users overwhelmingly and willingly choose. It’s rather telling that the most frequent search query on Microsoft’s Bing is “Google.” This doesn’t suggest a coercive monopoly but indicates a product that consumers want to use.
While the government’s lawsuit might be cloaked in the noble intent of fostering fair competition, its ramifications would curtail consumer choice. As presented, the Google antitrust case is more punitive towards success than protective of consumers.
It’s not the government’s role to pick winners and losers. The Google antitrust case not only exemplifies such an attempt, but also hints at a growing inclination to wield government power to achieve these ends. In America, it should be the people who determine the products they use based on merit, not governmental mandates.
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