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Does Google Have a Monopoly?

In response to the news that Google plans to integrate Google Plus with its regular search function, some are crying foul and accusing Google of “monopoly abuse.” But is that really the case? I think Matt Yglesias strikes the right chord as he persuasively counters these claims:

But raising the spectre of antitrust law in this regard is bound to founder on the fact that there’s no monopoly power for Google to be abusing. A 65 percent market share in web search is big, but by no means a monopoly. And there are basically zero barriers to switching from Google Search to Bing. I did it a couple of months ago on my Mobile Safari browsers because Google was annoying me, and there’s no discernable quality difference (I use Chrome on my MacBook Air). Meanwhile Microsoft, which owns Google’s biggest search rival, still has the dominant position in the desktop OS market and the leading web browswer and everyone seems to love their new mobile phone OS.

Beyond Bing-Google competition, it’s also not clear to me that there are any huge barriers to entry here that would prevent Apple or Facebook or Amazon or any other large tech company from entering the web search business if Google started churning out an inferior product. Right now nobody wants to get into the market because nobody has a very credible story to tell about why you should stop using Google. Microsoft got in anyway and has—at great financial cost to itself—strong armed its way into a hefty chunk of market share. But if Google starts really degrading the quality of its search product in a way that erodes its market share, other firms can sweep into the business. A lot of this tech industry vertigal integration is extremely annoying—Apple TV can’t play widely used video formats, Google won’t upgrade its Maps ap for iPhone, etc.—but there’s too much competition for any of it to be illegal.

Ditto for Timothy Lee over at Forbes:

As a user, I find it useful that Google includes some images in the main search results page when it thinks image results are likely to be relevant. So I certainly wouldn’t be happy if Google eliminated images from search results altogether. Perhaps Google could work with other image search engines to come up with a way for Google to embed their search results on Google pages, but then there’d be endless controversy about which image search engines were eligible, and how Google decided which image search engine results (if any) were displayed for any given search keyword. Alternatively, Google could establish some kind of open API for publishing image search results and let the user pick which image search engine he or she wanted to embed in Google search results, but it’s a safe bet that only a small fraction of users would take advantage of this option, and that would lead to accusations that Google was sabotaging the option by not making it prominent enough, by causing third-party image search results to load more slowly than native Google image search results, etc.

Fortunately, there’s another option that avoids all these complexities: if you don’t like Google’s image search, you can click on your browser’s URL bar, type “” (or “”, “”, etc) and press enter. Thanks to the magic of the DNS system, you can access any one of thousands of non-Google websites without any help from Google.

Now, Edelman and others will say this is unfair to Google’s competitors, and I suppose that in some sense it is. But so what? The point of competition is to get consumers the best possible products and services, not to guarantee that every product has a precisely equal chance of succeeding. The inclusion of images makes Google a better search engine. And any consumer who is dissatisfied with Google Image Search can switch to an alternative in a matter of seconds.

Disclosure: I own Google stock.

Image via New York Times

  1. July 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm

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