Photo: Scott Brownrigg
Like just about every other conscious human, I’m passionately ambivalent about Google these days. So yesterday’s New York Times Article (“Google to Face Congressional Antitrust Hearing”) caught my eye. Because while consumers, congress, and the business press like westerns featuring white hats vs. black hats, Google has become the kind of anti-hero that Sam Peckinpah would have loved.First, the stuff that Congress is starting to notice. The Times article made comparisons to the long-ago Microsoft anti-trust action. While that would make the kind of neat storyline (“They’re spiking the search results to favour their own businesses!”) that Congress and Cable news anchors love, this mid-90s melodrama doesn’t play the same anymore. For one thing, while companies like Yelp may be be crying foul, there are both other search options (seriously) and a behemoth competitor to act as a counterbalance (see “Facebook.”)
This is not to say, however, that both consumers and players in the online advertising ecosystem shouldn’t have very serious concerns about Google’s battle plan for hegemony. They absolutely should.
Recently at an event hosted by Evidon, I moderated a panel featuring actual civilians — consumers — about issues relating to privacy. In preparing for the discussion, I pre-interviewed and polled the panelists about their level of paranoia about various companies. Concern about Google was middling — mostly 3s on a 5 point scale. But when I later pointed out that Google also owned DoubleClick, one of the principal companies that helped direct the placement of ads on the web, most panelists wanted to restate their scores and raise their level of concern. How long before consumers start to connect the dots between Google/Click and G-Mail (knows what I write), YouTube (knows what I watch), Android (knows where I am and what I’m searching for locally) and Zagat (knows what I want to eat)? Does a nation in love with conspiracy theories really just keep blowing kisses to Mountain View?
There’s a corollary agenda of concern for those engaged in online marketing: the linkage of Google-Adwords-Adsense-YouTube-DoubleClick-Invite Media-Motorola-…?? Are the value of monthly Adsense checks and predictable DART ad deliveries fair compensation for a world in which Google’s control of “the ad stack” is virtually absolute? Google’s now famous (and famously ironic) watch-phrase “Don’t Be Evil” is irrelevant now. They are a corporation and corporations for better or worse perpetuate their interests. And those who would expect government action to level the playing field are living in a fantasy realm. Google’s hegemony will only be checked by smart companies making active decisions about their own options and choices. And that’s probably as American and capitalist as it gets.
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