A Layman's Guide to Google Antitrust

The old adage in poker is, if you look around the table and can't spot the sucker, it's you. Well antitrust authorities around the world (EU, U.S., South Korea, Argentina, India, & Brazil) are looking into Google's business practices and are spotting that Google runs a rigged search "poker game" that's suckering most everyone.

A good way for a layman to understand Google's uniquely serious antitrust problems is to analogize Google's business to running a global poker tournament, where everyone involved assumes that they can trust the Google House, because Google has assured most everyone -- over a billion users and most of the world's advertisers and web publishers -- that they can trust Google. Google's website says "focus on the user and all else will follow," and that in designing products and services, Google takes "great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you rather than our own internal goal or bottom line." Google's corporate credo is "don't be evil" and has long stated "you can make money without doing evil." Sadly, what antitrust authorities are discovering is that players can't trust this search advertising monopoly -- to run an honest and fair game.

Consider Google's multiple deceptive and anticompetitive business practices.

In poker everyone knows it's cheating when the dealer (who is also a player) deals himself aces that are hidden up his sleeve. Well antitrust authorities are learning that Google overrides its own purported "unbiased" algorithmic search results to manually rank Google‐owned content -- Finance, Maps, YouTube, etc. -- most highly. Never mind Google's promise it “never manipulates search rankings to put our partners higher in search results.

It's also cheating for a poker player to deal his competitors bad cards from the bottom of the deck. Antitrust authorities are learning Google's “human raters” mysteriously assign competitors' websites lower “quality scores” so that these sites will rank lower in Google search results, which forces these competitors to pay Google lots more to get less Internet traffic. In addition, Google's major search algorithm updates, innocuously nicknamed "panda" and "penguin," have buried many Google competitors' search rankings where users won't find them, with little explanation.

Another form of cheating in poker is to conspire with accomplices who can see and count competitors' cards. Antitrust authorities are learning Google can leverage inside information -- that it alone enjoys as the world's dominant online content broker -- to further rig the game in its favor. Google is the only player that can track all other players' information, connections, interests, and activity. Only Google can clone publishers’ audience and advertiser lists to reverse-engineer competitors' content. And only Google knows all advertiser demand by demographic, enabling Google to create and rank its new content above its purported publisher‐partners.

Yet another form of poker cheating is arbitrarily changing the rules of the game to one's advantage. Antitrust authorities are learning that only one player -- Google -- gets to decide which of its competitors can play which hands at what specific ante, because Google alone decides who can bid on which keywords and who has to pay what price minimums.

A final form of cheating at poker is for the dealer to ensure there is no accountability to keep the game honest. For the first time antitrust authorities are getting to look inside Google's notoriously opaque search advertising ‘black box’ where Google alone keeps score, counts clicks, and decides the worth of each click type -- with no one watching.

In short, Google runs a rigged game so it can't lose. Google is player, dealer, the House, and the gaming commission, all rolled into one, with minimal transparency, competition or external checks and balances to keep its game honest. Antitrust authorities are catching on that Google has played us all for suckers.