When Google started back in the late ’90s, the idea that the two zany Stanford graduate students rollerblading around campus with no real business plan could one day be accused of running a monopoly would’ve seemed ludicrous. Back then, Microsoft was a Goliath of the tech industry, facing allegations of muscling its competition out of the market, while Google was a David, democratizing access to information online.
It’s incredible how much the landscape has changed in a little over two decades.
Today, Google is facing unprecedented scrutiny of its size, power, and influence. In the United States, politicians on both sides of the aisle, everyone from ardent conservatives to progressive Democrats, have found rare common ground in their desire to check Big Tech’s power. And while many of the other tech giants (namely Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) are facing similar pressure, Google is the first in the political hot seat. That’s because it’s the subject of not just one but three antitrust lawsuits, including a historic case by the Department of Justice alleging that the company has engaged in monopolistic behavior to elbow out its competition.
Proponents of regulating Google say it has amassed too much influence over our economy and daily lives. They argue that we don’t have much of a choice but to use the search giant’s products, and that comes with privacy and business trade-offs. But others say that, because Google’s products are largely free, it’s helping, not harming, consumers. They worry that putting new rules in place could stymie Google’s greatest innovations.
“I think what we really want is more technology companies, a marketplace that’s working properly, that has real competition,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who told Recode he’s drafting a slew of new legislation to regulate Google and other tech giants later this year.
We examined the case for — and against — regulating Google in the season finale of our podcast, Land of the Giants: The Google Empire, which chronicles the challenges facing one of the most important technology companies of our time.
In addition to Rep. Cicilline, we spoke with a range of experts, including DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg and Sally Hubbard of the Open Markets Institute, who made the case that Google is, in their view, a monopoly power that needs government intervention. But others, like Google’s director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, argue that the company doesn’t need to be regulated because it’s a net positive for society .
“It’s an amazing leveler — an equalizer because of the advertising business model,” said Cohen. “Poor people have access to exactly the same information as a rich person might. And I think that’s really worth defending.”