After 20 years, why did Google sit in the dock of Microsoft

 Google encountered a monopoly lawsuit by the US Department of Justice, which was regarded by many as a reprint of the Microsoft monopoly lawsuit 20 years ago. The irony is that Google, which indirectly benefited from Microsoft's monopoly litigation, is now in the same position.

More than 20 years ago, when Microsoft was in full swing at the time, it was forced to reach a settlement with the Ministry of Justice in an antitrust case. At almost the same time, a company called Google founded in Silicon Valley indirectly benefited from it and rose rapidly in the subsequent Internet wave.

Twenty years later, Google, which has a market value of more than one trillion dollars, sat in the dock where Microsoft once sat, and was sued by the US Department of Justice for alleged monopoly.

"Twenty years ago, Google provided Internet search services in innovative ways and became the darling of Silicon Valley. Today, such Google no longer exists." The Department of Justice wrote in the indictment, "Google has become the gatekeeper of Internet monopoly. ."

The main reason for the Ministry of Justice's lawsuit is that Google used its search service as the default search for many Internet services by signing a restrictive agreement, forming a monopoly and ultimately harming the interests of users.

As the defense, Google counterattacked confidently: "It was users who chose us, not that we forced it."

The law cited by the Department of Justice is still based on the old related bills dating back to 1890. Even the 16-month investigation conclusion of the U.S. House of Representatives on large technology giants concluded two weeks ago: traditional The anti-monopoly bill has been unable to deal with today's fast-developing technological Internet industry.

This is destined to be a protracted war of attrition. Although this lawsuit may eventually fail and cannot fundamentally change the pattern of the Internet search market, it still has a more far-reaching significance: this is the response of the Ministry of Justice and the legislature. Google is the first to explore and test the direction of the future reform of monopoly regulations, but it will definitely not be the last.

20 years of reincarnation, Google stood at the position of Microsoft

Google encountered a monopoly lawsuit by the US Department of Justice, which was regarded by many as a reprint of the Microsoft monopoly lawsuit 20 years ago. Twenty-two years ago, when Microsoft was in full swing, it was sued by the US Department of Justice, arguing that through a restrictive contract, IE Internet browser was bundled in its Windows operating system, which prevented the entry of other browser service providers and violated business The principle of competition harms the interests of consumers and constitutes a monopoly.

Today, 20 years later, it is ironic that Google, which indirectly benefited from Microsoft's monopoly litigation back then, is now in the same position. The Ministry of Justice believes that Google is suspected of forcing its search engine as the entrance to many hardware and services, preventing users from using other search services and forming a monopoly.

Specifically, Google has signed an agreement with Apple and other hardware or Internet service providers to use Google Search as the default search engine for the Safari browser in the iOS system. This move will bring a lot of traffic to Google Search, thereby promoting its advertising business. increase.

The Justice Department’s monopoly lawsuit against Google invoked the same law as the monopoly lawsuit against Microsoft 20 years ago: if a company uses restrictive contracts to protect its market dominance, disrupt competition and harm consumers, it’s a violation. Antitrust.

However, the age of the legal provisions on which this law is based can even be traced back to the Sherman Act of 1890 ("Sherman Act"), which is the legal norm for almost all US companies suspected of antitrust cases. Today, with the rapid development of the technological Internet era more than 100 years later, the old legal framework in the past will naturally be challenged.

On the day of receiving the lawsuit from the Ministry of Justice, Google issued a statement stating that the government’s practices “have serious legal loopholes and cannot help users in any way”.

Google said that 2020 is a completely different era. "This is not the 90s of dial-up Internet access. At that time, the replacement service was slow and troublesome. You usually need to buy and use a CD-ROM drive for software installation."

"Now you can easily download the applications you need or spend a few seconds in the settings to change the default settings, even faster than you walk to nearby retail stores." Google said in a statement.

Debate on user interests

Returning to the lawsuit itself, the core demand of the Ministry of Justice's monopoly lawsuit against Google is to protect the interests of users by changing Google's current market behavior.

In traditional antitrust cases, the formation of "monopoly prices" is usually involved, that is, manufacturers that form a monopoly position charge consumers a monopoly price higher than the competitive market, in order to achieve the goal of maximizing profits and at the same time harm the interests of consumers.

Although the situation of "increasing prices" does not apply to the "free" search services provided by Google, the Ministry of Justice believes that Google's actions have also harmed the interests of users, because Google has forcibly turned search services into many Internet portals. The default search results in users having no opportunity to use other search services that collect less user data, which damages users’ privacy protection status.

The Ministry of Justice stated in the indictment that for general search engines, the most efficient way to distribute is to use search engines as the default service for mobile and computer search portals. Even if users can change this default setting at any time, they rarely In doing so, this makes the default search engine the only choice in a practical sense.

According to the Justice Department, in order to achieve this goal, Google paid billions of dollars to "distributors", including device manufacturers Apple, LG, Motorola, Samsung, US wireless operators AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and browser services. Mozilla, Opera and UCWeb, etc., to become the default search service.

The indictment stated that about 60% of Google search requests came from third-party service providers with whom it signed an agreement, and the remaining 40% came from services operated by Google itself, such as Google Chrome. At present, the share of Google search accounts for 90% of the entire general search service market in the United States, and it is as high as 95% on the mobile side.

Under such circumstances, consumers have to be forced to accept Google’s service policies, privacy terms and use of personal data. Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, pointed out that (Google’s actions) hurt competition, and as a result, users suffer.

Hard to shake Google's market position

It is foreseeable that this monopoly lawsuit against Google by the Ministry of Justice will be a protracted war of attrition. Some legal persons predict that it will take at least one year to go from filing a lawsuit to court.

Although it won the monopoly lawsuit against Microsoft that year, forcing Microsoft to finally reach a settlement and agree to no longer bundle IE browser, this time the Ministry of Justice is not favored by most people because the competition in the browser market was relatively fierce. In contrast, Google search is currently almost unmatched in the market. The Internet giant has enough confidence to say that even if Google search is not the default search for many Internet services, users will still choose it as the first choice.

The Ministry of Justice itself has not proposed too many rectification measures for the current status quo. In the indictment, although a series of Google acts are suspected of being monopolized and will harm the interests of consumers, what changes need to be made to reverse the current situation. Currently, the Ministry of Justice has not made any clear claims.

"Regardless of the final outcome of this case, it may not be able to really change the competitive landscape of the search market." said A. Douglas Melamed, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former senior official of the antitrust department of the Ministry of Justice.

But such a lawsuit, which seems to be unable to change any results, still has great significance. As mentioned above, the relevant legal framework of the U.S. antitrust law is no longer suitable for today’s rapidly changing technology and Internet industry. This is also the 16-month-long complaint to large technology companies such as Apple and Google that the U.S. House of Representatives just concluded two weeks ago. One of the main conclusions of the monopoly investigation is that the Ministry of Justice’s case against Google’s monopoly litigation is a positive response to this status quo. Through the “testing” of this lawsuit, the Ministry of Justice and the legislature will explore more relevant bills in the future. In order to better adapt to the development of new industries and companies, at the same time, the actions of the Ministry of Justice have also released clear signals to large technology companies: which behaviors have stepped on the red line of the law.


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