Five years ago I asked, “Is Google a utility?” A utility, of course, is usually a “natural monopoly”; it provides some infrastructure-type product or service in a market where competition supposedly makes no economic sense. Its profits are essentially assured but managed; its rates are regulated; it has little choice over with whom it may do business. Regulation of a monopoly as a utility is an approach, mainly of an earlier era and school of thought, to managing a certain kind of challenge to public welfare presented by dominant market share.
Google a utility? Well, it certainly provides something in short supply that everybody likes: Money. Google has generated massive wealth, not only for its investors and shareholders and employees, but to untold millions of beneficiaries of its search engine, the most influential and powerful invention of our generation. This blog is certainly one of those beneficiaries, as is the practice and well-being of its owner.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the going got too good. As everyone knows by now, Google is on the verge of officially being investigated for antitrust violations by the Federal Trade Commission. Here is its official response.
Busting up Google just because it’s dominant — and it is very, very dominant, no matter what they tell you, for its dominance goes far beyond its market share of search; as anyone who sells, creates or actively does anything on the Internet — would probably be bad policy. But there are probably other reasons to take a look at a company that is indeed so powerful that it probably knows, or can find out, enough about just about everyone with anything to hide that it is a little scary. Luckily, I am not one of them. I am, however, concerned about the rest of you.
This is a big issue, and I am not prepared to run away from writing about it in the context of the topic of this blog. But I am also not all that up to speed on it yet. A post on Search Engine Land called “Googleopoly,” however, is probably where I will start to get there.