On Oct. 20, the Department of Justice filed a long-awaited antitrust suit against Google. The lawsuit, which alleges Google has harmed competitors “through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices,” is as myopic as it is a repeat of past allegations toward other successful companies.
Let’s be clear: Google has not conducted its business in violation of historic antitrust standards. On the contrary, it has embraced America’s legacy of business competition.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee weighed in last year on the scope of Big Tech’s threat, saying, “many of the calls to use antitrust law to address these issues are misplaced, and I’m worried that, in the rush to address our collective concerns about tech, we risk undermining the soundness and impartiality of antitrust enforcement.”
Recent allegations toward social media companies and accusations of search engine censorship undoubtedly reinforce this idea of a “misplaced” lawsuit because they have little to do with demonstrated anticompetitive actions. Equally misplaced, the DOJ’s litigation focuses on the argument that Google has excluded competing search engines from the marketplace by reaching agreements with computer and cellphone manufacturers to set Google as the default search engine.
The fact is that you can effortlessly search online (on Google’s own website, or Bing, or Yahoo or DuckDuckGo — or any of the free, available search options) for directions to change your browser’s search engine. You will find Google’s recent instructions stating that it is “trivially easy” to do are entirely accurate. It takes just seconds.
What’s more, advertising prices are decreasing because of the robust market competition that Google faces. If it were a monopoly, Google would be free to set its own rates. Instead, these competitive prices are evidence for the free-market ideal to let companies use their ingenuity to make profits while providing quality services that consumers choose to use.
It is an ideal that stands in contrast to the current affairs in Washington, D.C. With record-setting budget deficits and an exploding national debt that will soon eclipse U.S. gross domestic product, it is ironic that the federal government will be going after a company that has, simply put, embraced America’s competitive spirit.
Despite this, the lawsuit states that “Google’s anticompetitive acts have had harmful effects on competition, advertisers, and consumers.” But this could only be true by defining harmful as better, more popular services that consumers are freely choosing.
And while popularity doesn’t necessarily mandate monopoly, it also doesn’t mandate eternal success. In an op-ed written last year, Jennifer Huddleston, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, argued: “History shows how companies that seem unstoppable can be replaced by new competitors … more quickly than you might think, thanks to innovation. The Department of Justice brought separate multi-decade antitrust cases against IBM and Microsoft, yet it was dynamism in the market, not any court ruling or legal settlement, that undermined the power of their alleged anticompetitive conduct.”
She is right and also not alone in highlighting the free market’s innovative edge that checks notions of monopoly and keeps companies anticipating the next market shift. Conservative columnist George Will similarly points out: “In 1997, the year Google was founded, Yahoo dominated the search engine market. Twenty years ago, AOL had an estimated 90% of the instant messaging market. ‘Will Myspace ever lose its monopoly?’ asked a Guardian technology writer in 2007, when it was the most-visited website.”
Companies like these are continually riding the ebb and flow of the markets, consumer desires, generational shifts and the broader economy. Google, alongside all other companies that aren’t harming consumers and acting to impede competition, should be unencumbered from government regulation and investigations to adapt and change to market conditions and consumer needs. It is, after all, their margins on the line if they don’t.
Google has crafted exceptional products that nearly all of us use. We choose to use them because they are functional, virtually free and what we need. We aren’t forced to use them, and we know there are always alternatives.
While Washington spends time suing an extremely successful American company, stay on the lookout for the next innovative, lower-cost product America’s competitive spirit will produce. But, in the meantime, remember that it’s actually the federal government that has the monopoly on one thing: time-wasting.
James Czerniawski is the tech and innovation policy analyst at the Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCz19.