New York Times Editorial: Google's Bias Could "Result in Fewer Choices for Consumers"
In a series of reported stories and a strong unsigned editorial, The New York Times has vividly illustrated the faults with the Federal Trade Commission’s disappointing ruling in its antitrust investigation of Google.
In a Jan. 4 editorial, the Times said the ruling “does not completely settle the question of whether the company, which is used for more than 70 percent of all Internet searches in the United States, has abused its dominance.” The Times editorial board writers continued:
“The F.T.C. has left unresolved the legitimate fears that Internet companies like Expedia and Yelp have about how Google uses its power to push into online businesses like travel bookings and restaurant reviews while pushing aside rivals.
“Even if that does not immediately leave users worse off, Google’s critics rightly argue that it could eventually result in fewer choices for consumers if worthy Internet services fail because Google actively makes it difficult for people to find them.”
Google was able to avoid FTC sanctions over how it manipulates search results because of an alleged lack of evidence on how that practice harms consumers.
But in another report the Times eloquently pointed out the issue with this reasoning:
“Instead of considering harm to people who come to Google to search for information, Google’s competitors and their supporters say that the government should have been looking at whether Google’s actions harmed its real customers — the companies that pay billions of dollars each year to advertise on Google’s site…
“By pushing links to competing sites lower, Google might be making things easier for people who come to it for free search. But it also is having a negative effect on competitors, shutting off traffic for those sites.”
While the FTC missed a great opportunity to restore competition and innovation to the search market and Internet services, law enforcement officials in Europe and state attorneys general still have an opportunity to right this wrong.
As the Times also pointed out, Google is set to make a detailed set of proposals this month to the European Commission, followed by market testing to gather input from the public and industry about their effectiveness in remedying the harms from four Google practices that the EC has already identified as potential illegal abuses of dominance. While the FTC fell short of achieving its mission of protecting American consumers, the attorneys general and European Commission can and should take strong enforcement actions to make sure that fair and unbiased search results on Google do become a reality.