“Mr. Schmidt, industry stats show that Google runs between 65 and 70% of all Internet searches in the U.S. done on computers and about 95% on mobile devices, and has 75% of all search advertising revenue in the United States,” recited Sen. Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl (D – Wisc.) “Under the common antitrust standards, this kind of a market share is considered to constitute monopoly power. Does Google recognize that as a monopolist or a dominant power? Special rules apply that there is conduct that must be taken and conduct that must be refrained from.”
At that moment, the magnitude of the weight of the Google chairman’s devious plan, all the millions of little wrongs committed every second against everyday mothers and fathers just trying to earn a living, impacted him like a meteor streaking from the sky. Sen. Kohl’s prophetic words, as though carved on the Halls of Justice itself, rang a new chord in Eric Schmidt’s heart, which grew three sizes in that very instant. “My lord,” the chairman found himself saying, “what have I done? What a monstrous machine have I set forth upon this Earth? Yes… yes, Senator, I do believe! Special rules do apply, and there is conduct that must be refrained from! And to the end of my life, by the sword Excalibur, I shall make this my mission!”
In Sen. Kohl’s mind, this scene must have played itself out, and certainly only for an exclusive engagement. Yesterday’s almost comic, real-world performance of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, with Google’s Eric Schmidt as star witness (plus a cameo appearance by comedian Al Franken debuting his new character, “Anti-Stuart Smalley“) provided further proof that Congress exists in another century – one which lacks a “2.”
FOR MORE:“Is Google a Monopolist?” by David Strom
Of course, Schmidt had no such epiphany. Instead, he brilliantly assumed the mantle of Bill Gates, the previous master of this witness chair. Gates was able to leverage senators’ awe and admiration of his enormous intellect and wealth in snuffing out their scrutiny of his company. Schmidt, who personally resembles Gates as much as any new regeneration of “Doctor Who” resembles the previous one, assumed Gates’ role masterfully, dispatching all attacks on his corporate conscience with the ease and self-centeredness of a jujitsu master.
At one point, the Subcommittee literally, not figuratively, literally, asked Schmidt, if Google hypothetically were to be found guilty of whatever it is that Google’s guilty of, what measures would it take to atone for its bad actions? To which Schmidt, with language so smooth that senators didn’t even feel the blade going in, adeptly responded, such a finding would require a judge, not a legislator.
Schmidt knows that senators, in their quest for glory and re-election, need to be perceived as defenders of the common man against the ill will of the giant corporation. And since his primary business is, after all, advertising, he accurately ascertained this as the perfect promotional platform for Google. As long as Google, like Microsoft before it, is perceived as the untouchable domineer of an imperceptible empire, competitors will take arms against it not as equals but as up-and-comers.
Google is an intricate assembly of interconnecting platforms, all of which, including Android, are leveraged upon resolving the basic deficiency of the Web: It has no dial tone. For millions who need someone to tell them where to go, Google is Directory Assistance. Folks don’t need more than one “411.”
If Google is indeed anti-competitive, the nature of that conduct can only be expressed in a 21st century context, in how the operator of a database can manage information transactions to its own benefit. As long as Congress and government regulators perceive Google in a 20th century framework, as merely the successor to the Yellow Pages, and whose most grievous fault is dethroning an above-ground swimming pool distributor (no, I’m not making that up) from its #1 position in search results, they cannot hold Google liable for conduct it can’t perceive, let alone explain. Google emerges not only unscathed but bathed in precisely the light of invincibility best suited for Eric Schmidt.
The question that should have been asked, if anyone on the Subcommittee had awakened yesterday to the 21st century, is whether any one company should have dominant control over access to information. And further, whether the public should be allowed to bestow such power upon one company, even if that’s what they want.