I Hate to Enjoy This, But...

Apparently Google is under attack from many directions for anti-trust violations, the main complaint seeming to be that Google tilts its search results to favor its own divisions   (e.g. Google Places at the top of travel searches).    The Reason article as well as the Politico piece illustrate just how much competitors with political pull, rather than consumers, are the true beneficiaries of anti-trust policy.

I really have nothing but disdain for this use of government power, but I can't help but laugh at the plight of Google, whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.  In fact, ironically, the core of this suit was about Microsoft going too far in integrating the OS with browser.  In many ways, Microsoft was probably prescient (for once, they tend to be a follower) in looking towards an OS built around browser.  In fact, by preventing Microsoft from such integration, the suit cleared the way for an integrated browser based OS to be introduced by.... Google with Chrome OS.  And there sure is a lot of browser / OS integration in my Google android-based phone.  I also don't remember my Android phone offering me a range of browser and search choices, requirements their CEO had the government impose on Microsoft.

More recently, Google has led the charge in Washington to regulate broadband suppliers in the name of "net neutrality."  This classic bit of tilting the playing field in the name of creating a level playing field was theoretically aimed at stopping broadband companies from tilting their bandwidth for or against different web sites.  Thus critics of Google who are concerned with the tilting of their search results for or against companies are demanding "search neutrality."  This is a horrible bit of government interventionism, but the irony is delicious.

Google's efforts in net neutrality really are a head scratcher for me.  What did they really get from that, and was it really worth opening the Pandora's box of government Internet regulation?  And didn't anyone there not see the obvious application of the same logic to themselves?  If you establish the principle that Cox Cable has to be a common carrier, it seems like a small step to say that Google Search must be as well.  And maybe Amazon.com next must be a common carrier of retail goods.    This is bad, bad stuff and Google and its CEO has brought it all on themselves.

  • Jason

    Actually, you can install a new browser on an Android phone and any time you touch a link in an app it will pop up and ask you which app you want to use to view the link. You can also set the default to which ever browser you prefer if you don't want it to ask each time.

  • mishu

    I just went to the Android market and searched "browser" and found three choices right off the top. Opera, Dolphin, xScope and Skyfire. As much as I get your point and I'm not a fan of Google but a quick fact check wouldn't hurt.

  • LoneSnark

    But when you first get your Android, it doesn't ask outright which of the four you want to use and then install only that one, as Windows is required to in Europe.

    I suspect Google's position is that the Justice Department tends to keep itself busy and if they weren't going after (insert competitor here) then they would be going after someone else, such as Google.

  • Josh

    If Google decides to skew their results so much that people desire to seek an alternative, they can easily type any competitor's address into their web browser.

    If Cox decides to degrade service to certain web sites, their customers... can maybe file a complaint or something. They're stuck with whatever Cox decides to allow them to see.

    That is the power imbalance that net neutrality is supposed to address. Regulation is a burden, but in the case of net neutrality it will be well worth it.

  • http://iceberg18.blogspot.com iceberg

    You're thinking of Netscape (Mosiac, Navigator, Communicator, later Mozilla) that was party to the Microsoft antitrust case, not Google (which wasn't around till a couple years later)

  • Skeptic

    "Novell, when current Google CEO Eric Schmidt was at the helm, was never hesitant about complaining to regulators about Microsoft."
    said Microsoft Corporation Counsel David Heiner

  • Smock Puppet

    > whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.

    Not to suggest that I consider Google anything but another example of a company getting too damned large as a whole and gaining too much control over a single aspect of computing, to the point of being a defacto monopoly...

    But the key aspect of your comment is that Microsoft was simply "giving away" its browser.

    This was hardly the case.

    In fact, Microsoft was using its control over the OS in an abusive manner to defeat its competition. It defacto paid -- via lowered licensure fees for the OS -- any computer maker who explicitly did NOT include Netscape (roughly 80% of the market share at the beginning of IE) when making their computers available to the public.

    While the average individual could easily enough install Netscape for free, the typical individual would do the lazy thing, which was to just use what was there. Microsoft used its control over the operating system to gain substantial advantage over the browser market, to the detriment of the consumer. In actual fact, IE was the vastly inferior product -- IE3 had substantial design flaws which Netscape 2 -- released well before IE3 was released -- had already addressed.

    In short, Microsoft did not win its control over the browser market by creating a better product and getting people to choose it over the alternative competition. It did so by using its very deep pockets to undermine the competition along with its understanding of human "inertia".

    > If Cox decides to degrade service to certain web sites, their customers… can maybe file a complaint or something. They’re stuck with whatever Cox decides to allow them to see.

    If Cox does it too much, then those customers will simply go to the competition -- AT&T broadband right now, but Verizon and Sprint 4G before very long. The solution is to increase competition, not to increase regulation. If customers have alternatives, then the companies will have to care about what they want, and work to satisfy them.

    More regulation simply leads to rent-seeking, and companies attempting to manipulate the regulations by lobbying and corruption.

  • Joshua Lyle

    Other Josh,
    you said "Regulation is a burden, but in the case of net neutrality it will be well worth it", but the case you previously address, that Cox has a service monopoly as an ISP, is itself a product of regulation. Wouldn't it be better to end the monopoly/duopoly/oligopoly regulations that try to plaster them over by with more regulation that tries to clumsily fix just one aspect of the poor service such protected entities provide? Wouldn't it be better if you could change ISPs just as you change search engines?

  • N

    Josh Lyle, that might be better. But you don't see ISPs tramping up Capitol Hill saying "We don't need net neutrality, you can just eliminate our regulatory monopoly." The chances of that happening are slim to nill.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    Joshua Lyle -- the nature of "Cox service" is that, much like the old phone company, it was a natural monopoly of sorts. You'd have to debundle the hardware from the service itself, requiring that cable providers grant access to competitors.

    Not saying I disagree with that notion, but the activity does appear to be largely fixing itself -- cable companies now face competition from satellite providers on the "TV" end, from the phone company on the wired broadband end, and, to a lesser but increasing extent, from wireless companies on both of those fronts.

    This is why you DON'T want "net neutrality" crap -- there's enough competition to fix any problems without giving some unelected committee of appointed bureaucraps imprimatur over technology's future.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    I've got Cox internet, BTW -- they have, at this point, the fastest service beyond a doubt in my area. I haven't seen any issue with them throttling connections down, and that includes substantial P2P usage.

    There IS a minor danger inherent in their using specific connectors to the internet -- I've seen at least one site which was blocked, according to a TRACEROUTE, at a point outside of their (Cox's) servers. The only way to access the site was to use an free anonymizer to force the connection onto a different route. The current system does not allow an individual to either specify their own route to "point 'b'", or to force the system to search for an alternate route (perhaps with hints). This is a downside to the current system.

    In short, it IS possible to censor the internet such that less experienced users will not be able to access a web site. And that's not a particularly good thing.

  • http://www.hostmycalls.com James Waldrop - HostMyCalls Hosted PBX Service

    Healthy competition can solve all net neutrality debates. The problem with Internet providers manipulating traffic is many areas (if not most) have weak broadband competition and users can be locked into contracts. With search engines and browsers, there is plenty of competition and choice. If a user does not like one, they can try another on a whim.

  • http://blog.beyourowndetective.net Barry

    Google has been in bed with the government for some time. Maybe not as obvious as GE. But in bed with still the same.

  • epobirs

    Smock Puppet,

    You say that like it was a bad thing.

    Companies reward customer loyalty in numerous ways. How was what Microsoft attempted any different? I say attempted because no major PC vendor took them up on the offer. For several years it was nearly impossible to buy a SOHO/consumer system that didn't come out of the box with some version of Netscape's browser installed. Netscape was so omnipresent that I never used a version of IE until 4. Ultimately, Netscape started dropping market share because their product got increasingly annoying and top heavy while Microsoft's improved and delivered critical functionality to developers. (AJAX was born from commands originally exclusive to IE5.) Despite how hated it is today, at the time IE6 was released it was regarded as a major advance in standards and web technology. Large numbers of corporate apps were written around it because it was the best platform going at the time. This wasn't a problem until years later when those same companies didn't want to invest in keeping their products compatible with newer browsers, including later IE versions. This was the same mentality that lead to the Y2K annoyances and Microsoft itself was helpless to stop it.

    Back when Netscape was the darling of the tech press, Marc Andreeson was quoted in a Wired article stating that the browser was going to be the focus of new application development and Windows would be relegated to just "being a buggy driver layer." Microsoft took that seriously and showed Netscape that they could do it better thanks to their control of the OS. An entirely reasonable reaction, IMO. A company representative made boastful claims and expected the competition to ignore it. Bad move.

    But then, Andreeson was woefully unprepared for the position he was catapulted to. His original contribution to Mosaic was a single HTML tag. The only reason he was given a major position in the company was that Jim Clark mistakenly believed Andreeson had some sort of ownership of the Mosaic code base (recall that the company was originally called Mosaic Communications Corp. and was among those scratching their heads at a press event where they declared their intent to commercialize a freeware product), when in fact it was the property of the NCSA.

    Netscape, ultimately, was a company without a business model. The epitome of the DOT.BOMB era where the simplest economic theory was ignored because the internet was going to magically change all of the rules. Microsoft wasn't the only company inclined to produce a browser for free. There were numerous others, some qualified their existence by being tied to a particular ISP, such as Netcom's Netcruiser. Back then, if you were making a go at the dial-up internet access business, rolling your own software made some sense when the major OSes lacked an IP stack and companies like Novell had to do of free client side coding to make a market for their server products. Things change. That brief period when Netscape looked like a world beater was just a passing illusion that could only manage any glamour at that special moment in history.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > I say attempted because no major PC vendor took them up on the offer. For several years it was nearly impossible to buy a SOHO/consumer system that didn’t come out of the box with some version of Netscape’s browser installed.

    You are on drugs. The number of machines with NS pre-installed dried up within a year to a small fraction of the market. And if you claim otherwise, I'd suggest you need to support it with figures, not bland claims to the contrary. Because I CAN cite figures if I choose. I KNOW how fast M$ suppressed the market to their benefit.

    > Ultimately, Netscape started dropping market share because their product got increasingly annoying and top heavy while Microsoft’s improved and delivered critical functionality to developers.

    LOL, so, what you're saying is (and indeed, is partly accurate) M$ gained further market share by fiddling with internet standards (set by organizations recognized internationally as having the task of setting standards) using their control over the tool market (M$ is also a major owner-producer-creator of the base-level languages and toolkits used to produce Windows code) to make their competition less functional (The internet equivalent of "DOS isn't done until Lotus Won't Run") and making their tools work explicitly easier for developers who wrote code specifically to work with IE and only IE* by using these standard-ignoring Microsoft-supported programming "enhancements"

    Yesss, that's a massively effective defense of M$'s not having monopoly control over the market... LOL.

    Microsoft: "We ignore standards. Even our own."

    The chief problem with your argument is that those "improvements" didn't occur until much later -- well into the early 2000s.

    Fact is, NS3 had already dropped from 80% market share to less than 30% market share by the time NS4 (which everyone pretty much ignored for 2 years after its release for the reasons you cited) was released. Why?

    IE3 had, as I've noted, substantial security flaws which NS2 (yes, *2* -- released BEFORE IE 2) had addressed.

    NS3 was smaller, faster, initially more compatible with all existing web pages, and, initially, far more prevalent than IE2 or IE3, its competition. Yet somehow, it lost market share to IE2/3 steadily in the very late 90s. How?

    As I've said -- not by IE2/3 being a better browser: MANY more security flaws, SUBSTANTIALLY less compatibility with existing web pages -- but by dint of M$ misusing its power over OTHER ASPECTS OF COMPUTING to suppress their competitors.

    Sorry, YOU may find it acceptable for M$ to use its deep pockets to prevent its competition from making it to market, but I don't.

    This is akin to, oh, Proctor and Gamble using their own large warchest to prevent some upstart detergent company from obtaining shelf-space at Wal-Mart by buying it all up (though they have no use for it and are losing money by doing so) and thus preventing the other company's better product being made available to the consumer.

    That's not fair competition.

    I can see how a company would like to be able to do this and win without being better or making any improvements in their quality.

    It's probably cheaper and certainly easier.

    I'm saying it's still wrong.

    It denies me, the user, the choice of product. It allows inferior products to win in the marketplace because one company has MORE MONEY than another.

    (on a side note, who else besides me is pissed when a richer company, with a blatantly poorer product -- Symantec/Norton, for example -- BUYS THEIR SMALLER COMPETITOR -- SyGate, for example -- then KILLs that competitor's VASTLY superior product? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

    ===========================================================
    * BTW -- An example of how significant this actually was -- I was the TS guy for a large architectural firm's largest satellite office (about 50 users in a company with over 500 people). The place was an absolute NS user -- literally NO ONE at the entire firm (all 500 as far as I know) used IE when I started. They got a new company IT supervisor after I'd been there about six months, who brought in her own programming boy. Suddenly, there was a lot of pressure to use IE, including -- no sh** -- a case where they OVERTLY LIED to one of "my charges" claiming NS could not do something IE could do, in an attempt to force them to switch to IE, which pretty much no one in my location had ANY interest in. I disabused them of this notion, the NS means of doing it was actually pretty straightforward, just different from the way IE did it. The NS way was then closer to the internet standard, too.

    The general argument was that programmer-boy found it much easier to write for IE. So of course 500 people have to do what HE wanted -- what was convenient for HIM -- not the other way around.

    Netscape 3:
    Free

    IE 3:
    Free

    The power of monopoly control over programming toolkits:
    Priceless.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > Netscape, ultimately, was a company without a business model.

    Initially, yes, there is some validity to this. By the time M$ seriously came after the market (about the time Bill Gates realized that the browser could nominally displace Windows entirely, and almost s*** his pants at the notion), NS had a working business model, their server software was one of the primary ones on the market. They were using the Gillette model: give away the razors to sell the blades (or, I suppose in this case, vice-versa)

    As far as them being a dot-bomb, uh, "nice try". Unlike 99% of the rest of the companies that came out of that timeframe, NS HAD a seriously marketable product with comparatively zero overhead and massive market share -- more than 80% of all existing users. And as anyone with any understanding of marketing will tell you -- control over eyeballs is ALWAYS worth money.

    NS's key mistake was to take a Rodney King approach to its battle with Microsoft, while Microsoft was there to cut out their heart and eat it.