Is Google A Monopoly Or Do People Just Prefer It?

    June 13, 2012
    Chris Crum

The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece from Nextag CEO Jeffrey Katz, calling Google a monopoly and slamming the company’s business practices. This is nothing new, of course. We see these types of complaints all the time, and various government bodies continue to give the company a hard look.

The European Commission has even given Google a July 2 deadline to come up with changes to its search results. A Google spokesperson told WebProNews, “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission.”

Do you think Google should be regulated? Let us know in the comments.

Google, apparently recognizing the huge audience Katz’ piece was likely to find, decided to address the article in a blog post, and dispute six of the claims he made. Google SVP, Engineering, Amit Singhal took on the argument.

“Let me be very clear: our unpaid, natural search results are never influenced by payment,” Singhal writes. “Our algorithms rank results based only on what the most relevant answers are for users — which might be a direct answer or a competitor’s website. Our ads and commercial experiences are clearly labeled and distinct from the unpaid results, and we recently announced new improvements to labeling of shopping results. This is in contrast to most comparison shopping sites, which receive payment from merchants but often don’t clearly label search results as being influenced by payment.”

“As we’ve said many times before, we built search to help users, not websites,” he writes. “We don’t make changes to our algorithms to hurt competitors. We make more than 500 changes a year (each one scientifically evaluated) in order to deliver the most useful results for our users – and we now publish a monthly list of algorithm improvements. Every one of those changes moves some websites up and some sites down in the rankings, but the most important thing is that users are happy with the results.”

“Our algorithms are always designed to give users the most relevant results — and sometimes the best result isn’t a website, but a map, a weather forecast, a fact, a quick answer, or specialized image, shopping, flight, or movie results. And that’s not just Google; Bing, Yahoo and other search engines do the same thing,” he continues.

“All major search engines — including Bing and Yahoo — long ago evolved beyond the simple ‘ten blue links,’ and we believe that our users are often best served by providing better answers directly in search results,” he adds. “And if users don’t like our results, they can try Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, or even Google Minus Google.”

In the WSJ piece, Katz wrote, “Google should grant all companies equal access to advertising opportunities regardless of whether they are considered a competitor.”

Interestingly enough, I saw a Microsoft ad while searching through my Gmail earlier today. I saw one again in the middle of writing this article, while viewing an email about Google.

Look what I get when I search “search engine” in Google:

Google Search

Singhal addressed this part of Katz’ argument as well: “We don’t prohibit competitors from advertising on Google — in fact, many of our largest advertisers are also competitors. Our auction-based advertising system, which takes into account relevance and bids, is designed to provide a level playing field on which placement is not automatically awarded to the highest bidder.”


The bottom line is: nobody is forcing users to use Google. Some people use Yahoo as their search engine of choice. Some use Bing. Some use Baidu. Some use Yandex. Some use Blekko. Some use DuckDuckGo. Some use Ask. Some use something else entirely. It just so happens to that the vast majority of people prefer Google, and that’s despite years of no television advertising.

There is not a device or browser that I know of that forces you to search using Google. If Google could force users to use Google products, Google would probably be getting better user numbers on Google+. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even have a Google+ because Google Buzz would have been so successful, we’d all be using that as our primary means of social networking.

Google has major competitors in almost every facet of its business. Microsoft. Apple. Facebook. Those are a few that come immediately to mind, though there are certainly plenty of others.

A major flaw of Katz’ argument is that he compares Bing to all of Google. Katz says, “Its closest competitor, Bing, is so far behind in both market share and revenue that Google has become, effectively, a monopoly.”

If you want to compare just the search engines, that’s one thing, but if your’e going to say, “Google has spent years trying to monopolize every avenue through which a company can reach users online—whether it is through search, advertising, email, mobile devices or browsers,” then you have to compare Google to Microsoft as a whole, which makes a great deal more sense.

Besides things like Windows and Internet Explorer, Microsoft happens to have a little thing called Xbox, in a massive space (gaming/entertainment) that Google can barely even dream of having Microsoft’s market share in. And just this week, in fact, Microsoft finally announced that its Internet Explorer browser (which tends to come with Bing as the default search) will be coming to Xbox. Bing could have been competing at a much higher level if Microsoft would have done this in the first place. Then there’s the fact that Bing provides the web search results on Facebook, the world’s massive 900 million user-strong social network.

At least one Googler has been talking about Microsoft’s approach to search. Look at this recent conversation thread from Twitter:




While still the default search on iOS, Apple seems to be distancing itself from Google more these days. By the way, it takes about 5 seconds to change the default search from an iPhone from Google to Yahoo or Bing.

There is nothing forcing people to use Google other than preference, habit, or brand recognition. Google spent a lot of time building all of that up to where it’s at today. Google has been one of the greatest success stories of our our time. Should it be punished for that? Should Google be penalized by government regulation for operating its own site the way it wants to, just because the majority of people happen to find it a superior product than its competitors?

Won’t forcing Google to change the results that are preferred by the majority of Internet users hurt users? Tell us what you think.