What Is Google?

What is Google? The question seems to boggle the mind. Most people don't give it much thought—we are in an age of abundant information and scant thought—but when a person does, he or she is usually baffled. While impressions abound, clarity does not. And that is probably the way Google wants it.

Google itself claims to be a number of things. To claim First Amendment rights for legal purposes, it claims it is a publisher, though no one buys this. Also for legal purposes, it claims to be an "internet service provider"; under that guise it censors others by invoking the Communications Decency Act. That is a bit of a curiosity, however, considering that Google operates the world's biggest pornography site (go to images.google.com or videos.google.com and type in "young naked girls"). Does it claim to be a pornographer? No, but it might make a good case for it. You might also get the impression that Google, with its self-driving cars, is an automobile manufacturer. That is a fanciful stretch that few, including the major automotive manufacturers, take seriously. And of course with Google Glass—Google teams up with the Italian monopoly eyewear company Luxottica for this one—you might think Google was a trend-setting fashion company.

Feel confused? So do I. Let us take a look at reality which, in the business world, almost always hangs out with the money.

In 2013, 85 percent of Google's revenues came from advertising. Google buys advertising space from publishers and sells it to those who want to advertise their goods or services. Guess what that makes Google? Without any doubt, Google is an advertising broker*. Feel let down? Were you hoping for something more exotic? Were you hoping the little self-driving cars were the magic money maker? Or perhaps Google Glass? Forget it. They're the hobbies of rich and famous techies. But there is an exotic twist, so hang on.

If Google were just an ad broker, there would be no problem; we wouldn't even be having this discussion. It would have to compete fairly for sales with other brokers, which is hard work; and that would be the end of the story. But broker Google has the distinction of owning the monopoly search engine on the Internet, which makes it the de facto gatekeeper to the World Wide Web, and thus Google controls visibility on the Internet. This is virtually life and death in cyberspace for those with websites who do business there. Google can make competitors invisible to those seeking information on any topic. It can also favor its own properties (websites) and advertising (AdWords) clients. In the digital age, you can't ask for more power than this, other than nuclear bombs. Used wisely, it might be okay. Given a Federal Trade Commission that did its job**, you might ensure fair play; and antitrust violations, though tempting, might be minimal. Given an environment of corporate greed and lax enforcement, you get the expected result: pain and suffering, if not death, to competition; consumers that are fed lies and half truths with paid-for search results; and youth that is presented a warped version of reality that borders on a public mental-health nuisance. The situation is comparable to a completely unregulated stock market with a single broker given absolute authority. You know who is going to get rich fast. And that is the story of Google. While appearing to the public like a "cool" visionary on a mission, especially to the young and naive, Google is anything but that to those who have been made invisible, the "disappeared." For them, Google is a big-bellied monster that eats the little guy.

Of course Google is other things: a master thief of content, a peeping Tom into all things private, a censor that would make Orwell's Big Brother sick with jealousy, and a policy tyrant without equal. But here we are concerned only with Google's antitrust abuse. Other charges can be filed at a later time.

*Google is also a very expensive broker. Its stated fee is 32 percent, over six times a normal brokerage fee. However, there are some that think it has been much higher in the past, perhaps as high as 99.6 percent. Until just recently, Google has refused to state the fee. Whatever the actual fee is, it is unconscionable and anticompetitive.

**The FTC, after 19 months of "studying" the issue of Google search bias, concluded what any intelligent twelve-year old could conclude in 20 minutes: that Google search results are biased. But it chose not to punish Google on the grounds that it did not harm the consumer. That is equivalent to a court of law saying that lying witnesses do no harm in the court room. It is a preposterous and illogical conclusion obtained via a 24-million dollar lobbying campaign by Google.

By Dr. S. Louis Martin