The Google/Microsoft Comparison: Industry Reaction to Antitrust Debate

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is considering filing an FTC complaint, even after two of the senators involved in the first subcommittee investigation suggested an FTC investigation last month. Google has cherry-picked positive quotes from influencers around the web to populate their post on Search Plus Your World reaction on their Google Competition blog, which they seem to do whenever the antitrust sentiment kicks off.

Is Google Search Plus Your World a logical evolution into a more social search engine, or a ballsy move to beef up their social network riding on the dominance of their search engine? Does the distinction matter, and has Google crossed the line into anti-trust territory?

In this second segment of our look at search industry opinion on Google’s recent changes and the ensuing fallout, search engines and marketers share their thoughts on growing Google anticompetition sentiment, as well as similarities between Google today and Microsoft at the height of their antitrust woes.

To see what DuckDuckGo, Blekko, Covario, adMarketplace, and Conductor had to say about Twitter’s statement that Google’s move hurts users and whether they feel this version of personalized search produces better results, see Search Quality & Twitter's Outrage: Industry Reaction to Google Changes

Comparing Google to the Microsoft of Days Gone By

Is Google Becoming Microsoft circa 1998

Despite the glowing reviews Google refers to on its competition blog, there have been a lot great posts on antitrust and a perceived killing of competition since Search Plus Your World was announced; see:

Some have even compared Google to Microsoft fifteen years ago, an analogy that came up even before this latest debacle. The search engines and marketers we spoke with largely see this as anti-competitive, though there was some debate as to whether the Microsoft comparison is a fair one.

Blekko’s Marketing VP Mike Markson isn’t surprised by the comparisons. "Obviously Google is the dominant search engine. comScore says that Google has 65% of the market, but I think webmasters will tell you their search referral data shows even more than that. It’s not surprising to me. It’s definitely similar to how people were viewing Microsoft 15 years ago," he told us.

Marketing & Product VP Seth Dotterer from Conductor points out, "Remember, 15 years ago, it was Netscape and Google themselves pointing the finger at Microsoft. There are a lot of parallels, just one being that Google is free to the user and supported by ads."

"The Microsoft case was leveraging their market power in one product to promote others. Google is doing the same thing with search to promote social. It’s pretty clear," said AdMarketplace COO Adam Epstein.

Jeff MacGurn, Vice President, Earned Media Services at Covario, disagrees. "I don’t think that’s a fair statement, only because Microsoft made software and Google makes a search engine. They’re two completely different things. There’s a huge difference in the products they’re making, how they present themselves; they’re completely different entities. You may be able to find parallels, but they’re completely different markets. It’s apples and oranges."

On Google Paving Their Own Way to Further Antitrust Investigation

Personally, I was confused when two U.S. senators involved in the antitrust subcommittee investigation last summer spoke out recently to say they believe an official investigation is warranted. As a Canadian, my knowledge of how the U.S. system works is limited and I hadn’t realized the Senate investigation was just a preliminary.

It seems an ominous warning now that Senators Herb Cole and Mike Lee from the subcommittee asked the FTC last month to launch an official investigation into Google based on their belief that it could be abusing its dominant position in the market, or may do so in the near future. At that time, they told V3, "While we take no position on the ultimate legality of Google's practices under the anti-trust laws and the FTC Act, we believe these concerns warrant a thorough investigation by the FTC."

We asked search engines and marketers if they felt Google is in antitrust territory, based on recent changes including the promotion of brand pages in primary search results and Search Plus Your World.

According to Dotterer, "There’s no question about it, Google is trying to leverage their dominance in search to get further into social and that is the definition of antitrust, to leverage dominance in one market to attack adjoining markets."

Android device with Google search barDuckDuckGo Founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg: "Given the Senate hearing last year, it’s actually kind of baffling that they would tread this far into territory that could be perceived as anti-trust, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens."

He pointed to another of Google initiatives as an display of anticompetitive behavior, as well. "Here’s an example," said Weinberg. "The new Android 4-point series: there’s a Google bar on the top of the screen, on every screen, that can’t be removed, and you can’t remove the image or change the search provider. You can go in to a global list of search providers and change to another provider, but the bar still says Google. It’s not like the other providers are there, you have no choice. The analogy there is crystal clear, but it’s worse than Internet Explorer because you can’t remove it."

Blekko sees Google’s current position as an opportunity for other engines and the industry as a whole. "When you talk about antitrust and product innovation, we’ve launched our search engine a year ago and we’re seeing incremental growth every month. Since our last talk a month ago, our traffic continues to grow. It is possible to grow traffic and offer a good search product in spite of the dominance of Google. People do see the difference, they actually notice the difference in quality," said Markson. He believes that as technology marches on, Washington will not provide the solutions to this problem and said Blekko thinks this needs to be solved through innovation in the search industry.