Google, antitrust and a lively war of image
Is it any surprise that Google finds itself under increasing antitrust scrutiny?
Now the subject of [two federal antitrust inquiries](/government/article.php/3818816/Apple+Google+Facing+Antitrust+Scrutiny+Report.htm), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has been meeting with lawmakers and regulators in an attempt to convince them that it is not, as some would claim, moving toward a global takeover by locking down a monopoly on the world's information.
Google offers a Webinar of the presentation here, and you can find an annotated version of the PowerPoint, marked up like a school paper (Google gets an F) by a self-styled consumer watchdog group called, well, Consumer Watchdog.
In essence, Google's talking points run along the lines of openness, helping individuals and businesses earn additional income on the Web, and the old chestnut that "competition is just one click away" -- a longstanding quip the company has used to explain why it has a very compelling business not to run roughshod over its users' privacy.
Bogus, cries Consumer Watchdog. The marked up version, featuring "comments from an expert," finds that Google's Capitol Hill "charm offensive" rings hollow and shows transparent. Among other things, it charges the company with capital hypocrisy for forcing openness on the market when it suits its interests (spectrum, Android, etc.) while remaining opaque as the walls of a coffin when it comes to things like its page ranking formula and the way it handles consumer information. Consumer Watchdog's expert has peppered the slides with quotes describing Google's secretive, anticompetitive practices from news reports and industry folk, including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, whose run at bringing transparency to search results ended earlier this year when he shuttered his venture Wikia Search. Watchdog's expert even takes the liberty to correct a spelling mistake.
Good points all around, I'm sure.
But there's a subtext to all this pubic posturing. Consumer Watchdog has been harping on Google for some time now -- for privacy, anti-competitive shenanigans, lobbying -- you name it.
Consumer Watchdog received a grant of $100,000 from the Oakland, Calif-based Rose Foundation that seems to have been intended for the not-so-subtle public disparagement of Google. A smear campaign, in essence, attended by PR ploys like a press release announcing that one of its ranks would be confronting Google's CEO with a tough question about privacy at a speaking engagement in Washington last November. (Schmidt, alone on stage in front of a packed auditorium in the Reagan Building, politely suggested that the occasion was not the appropriate forum for arranging a meeting.)
The two groups had a minor skirmish -- public, of course! -- after Google broached the idea of pulling Consumer Watchdog's funding with the Rose Foundation. (That came after CW put out a press release citing a "rumored lobbying effort" on Google's part to allow it to sell people's health records, a claim that Google immediately dismissed as patently false.) Well, CW erupted, demanded an apology. Google evidently apologized for the action, but as a matter of general record has little patience or respect for what Consumer Watchdog is trying to do.
So the image war continues and the antitrust inquiries drag on.
What would [Jeff Jarvis do](http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2009/03/google-dc-talk-friday-conversation-with.html)?