HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.: The Google Problem Isn’t Antitrust – WSJ.com
The Google Problem Isn’t Antitrust
Think privacy, not monopoly.
BUSINESS WORLD SEPTEMBER 20, 2011, 10:58 P.M. ET
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.
Google’s critics get a chance to vent today, using the invective of antitrust. A hearing of the Senate antitrust subcommittee is also something of a swan song for its retiring chairman, the estimable Herb Kohl.
Mr. Kohl has not always been especially fastidious in applying antitrust to the facts at hand. He once summoned Bush antitrust officials to rake them over the coals about a proposed merger of AirTran and Midwest Airlines, two small airlines, and decidedly not a case of monopolization. He insisted trustbusters should nevertheless nix a deal, citing his family’s own unhappy sale of a Wisconsin grocery chain to an out-of-state company: “This experience has taught me firsthand what dangers can ensue and, in fact, happen when people from somewhere else take over a business.”
Right. Whatever the purpose of antitrust, it’s not to prevent people from “somewhere else” from taking over a business, and neither is antitrust a particularly apt bludgeon for the real concerns raised by Google.
Google will be accused of having a “monopoly” on search, though its market share is only 65%, and it charges consumers nothing for its services.
It will be pointed out that this market share is deceiving; Google’s share of search-related advertising revenues is 75%, but then advertising is much bigger than search. TV, radio, the print press, billboards, direct mail and the advertising blimp are not controlled by Google.
It will be charged that Google is using its strength in search to annex new businesses, but unless Google can be fitted with the retrospective legal moniker “monopoly,” Google is entitled to insist that the success of its ventures comes because they meet the needs of users, not because users are deprived of choice.
It will be said Google favors its own services in search results, which might be consumer fraud if true. But unless and until Google is found to be a monopolist, it’s also entitled to claim that its search algorithms are per se justified since consumers are free to use another search engine if not completely satisfied.