Google’s march toward overwhelming search, digital ad, and mobile OS market dominance was visible from orbit to everyone but the most casual technology observer as early as in 2013; but the Obama administration Federal Trade Commission (FTC) experts rejected it.
It was in January of that year that they decided not to sue Google after conducting a probe, launched in 2011, into the giant’s monopolistic behavior. To make matters worse, the FTC of the time neither disclosed the details of its probe, nor explained the reasons behind the decision.
Eight years later, Politico said it obtained 312 pages of FTC’s confidential internal memos of the era, that the website says show people President Obama entrusted with recognizing the way the tech industry was going and proposing adequate action to protect competition and customers in many cases abjectly failed, as revealed in the documents.
The FTC’s failure to act to curb Google’s rising power back in 2013 is now seen as a watershed moment that allowed it, and a handful of other companies, to grow into trillion dollar juggernauts that may now be out of anyone’s reach or control.
However, a US Department of Justice (DoJ) antitrust lawsuit against Google filed last fall by the Trump administration, that alleges the giant is abusing its search market dominance, could receive a boost from these revelations.
“I always assumed the staff memo was not so specific, direct and clear about the path ahead. A lot of the DoJ case is in there. It’s really breathtaking,” William Kovacic, a former FTC official, told Politico.
The memos’ most explosive revelations have to do with exclusive contracts Google was putting in place with manufacturers to make sure its search engine was on nearly every device sold in the US.
In the present day, Google’s only mobile OS competitor, Apple, receives $12 billion each year to incorporate Google Search across its devices, and this is something last year’s DoJ lawsuit mentions.
(Another example is Google paying a small competitor to its dominant Chrome browser, Firefox, hundreds of millions every year to keep it as the default search engine.)
Now all eyes are on the Biden administration, and what, if anything, it will do to try to remedy the situation and give Google’s competitors and internet users options and choice.