Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Justice Department preparing antitrust lawsuit against Google, but will it be a strong case?

Will the United States Department of Justice blow its opportunity to hold the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its domineering, monopolistic business practices? That’s a concern that many people both inside and outside of the DoJ have, as this New York Times story documents.

The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month, after Attorney General William P. Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case against one of the world’s wealthiest, most formidable technology companies, according to five people briefed on internal department conversations.

Justice Department officials told lawyers involved in the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, to wrap up their work by the end of September, according to three of the people. Most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline. Some said they would not sign the complaint, and several of them left the case this summer.

Trump and Barr’s inappropriate politicization of the Department of Justice and their desire to use it as a vehicle to drive positive coverage for Trump’s reelection campaign could significantly hurt the case’s chances of success. State attorneys general are also interested in holding Google accountable, but many fear the DoJ is on the verge of sabotaging its own chance at a major antitrust legal victory, and thus may not be inclined to join in the action, whenever it ends up being filed.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Epic Games sues Google and Apple for monopolistic practices

Never seen a company willing to take on both Google and Apple before simultaneously… this is really something.

Epic Games has filed suit against Google over alleged antitrust violations, just hours after seeing Fortnite dropped from the both the Google Play Store and iOS App store and filing a similar lawsuit against Apple. Epic’s complaint alleges that Google’s payment restrictions on the Play Store constitute a monopoly, and thus a violation of both the Sherman Act and California’s Cartwright Act.

Epic’s hit game Fortnite was removed from the Google Play Store earlier today.

Where the Apple complaint opened with a description of the company’s iconic 1984 ad, Epic’s complaint against Google focuses on that company’s now-infamous “Don’t Be Evil” mantra. “Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought,” the complaint alleges, “and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize.”

Quite right. Quite right.

We have long had a category here on GW called “Menacing Monopoly” (which this post is filed under), and it’s very fitting that Epic is calling this behavior out for everyone to see. We wish them the best with their suit and hope that it leads to a future in which many app stores become available for both iOS and Android…. or else public regulation over the stores currently controlled by Apple and Google.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly, War on Privacy

Google admits to secret partnership with health insurance giant Ascension

This is very disturbing:

Google has signed a health care data and cloud computing deal with Ascension, a move that gives the search-engine giant access to health-related information of millions of Americans, helping it refine potentially lucrative artificial intelligence tools.

Clayton-based Ascension is the nation’s second-biggest health care provider by number of hospitals, with facilities in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

The partnership, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, will also explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical effectiveness as well as patient safety, Ascension said in a statement.

Google and Ascension claim that their partnership complies with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but we doubt that’s true. There’s no way that Google — with its awful record of waging war on user privacy and gobbling up information for suspect purposes — can be trusted with the health records of millions of Americans.

People who have a relationship with Ascension should be outraged that the company did not get their permission before inking this deal with Google.

The federal and state governments should open an investigation into this arrangement immediately.

MORE FROM ARS TECHNICA…

Google: You can trust us with the medical data you didn’t know we already had

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google continues to funnel vast sums to notorious climate deniers

Via Boing Boing, here’s Cory Doctorow:

Google and the other big tech companies are some of the most lavish funders of climate denial “think tanks” and lobbying groups, something they’ve been at continuously for more than six years, without interruption.

Google doesn’t fund these lobbyists because they’re climate deniers, nor because they’re indifferent to climate change and its human costs.

Google funds these lobbyists and astroturf operations because they also lobby for lax tax enforcement, lax labor laws, lax privacy laws, and so on. The fact that these groups also lobby for the right of corporations to render our planet uninhabitable (as well as against the rights of LGBTQ people, against reproductive freedom for women, etc) is merely an acceptable cost of greasing the skids to allow Big Tech to seek profits at the expense of their workers, suppliers, customers and society.

Read the whole thing.

As the excerpt above states, Google is not the only big company doing this. They’re all doing it, and it’s wrong. Very wrong.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Fifty U.S. jurisdictions announce sweeping antitrust investigation into Google

Looooooooong overdue!

Fifty U.S. states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google’s “potential monopolistic behavior.”

The Monday announcement closely followed one from a separate group of states Friday that disclosed an investigation into Facebook’s market dominance. The two probes widen the antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations and enforcement action by European regulators.

Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson, a Republican, said at a press conference held in Washington that 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google.”

It shouldn’t have taken this long.

The EU has for years been shouldering responsibility for investigating Google’s abusive business practices and its war on privacy while U.S. authorities have looked the other way. The Monster of Mountain View essentially got a free pass from the Obama administration.

But those days are now over.

Bring on the investigation, the regulatory scrutiny, and the antitrust enforcement.

Long overdue!

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Robert Epstein: To break Google’s monopoly on search, make its index public

Could making Google’s search index public reduce the threat that it poses without breaking up the company? Robert Epstein thinks so.

Different tech companies pose different kinds of threats. I’m focused here on Google, which I’ve been studying for more than six years through both experimental research and monitoring projects. (Google is well aware of my work and not entirely happy with me. The company did not respond to requests for comment.)

Google is especially worrisome because it has maintained an unopposed monopoly on search worldwide for nearly a decade. It controls 92 percent of search, with the next largest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, drawing only 2.5%.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index” — the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content — into a kind of public commons.

There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on — no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them.

An interesting idea, certainly one worthy of further discussion.

Doesn’t Google already share its index with everyone in the world? Yes, but only for single searches. I’m talking about requiring Google to share its entire index with outside entities — businesses, nonprofit organizations, even individuals — through what programmers call an application programming interface, or API.

Perhaps we’d all be better off if our laws caught up with the times and required companies like Google to make certain information available through APIs, just as public agencies must provide records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Small business owners are sick of being unfairly treated by Google and they’re taking their complaints to regulators

A must-read from The New York Times.

“As a small business, it’s like David versus Goliath,” said Andrew Ding, the owner of the Handpulled Noodle. The shop’s Google listing is how most customers find his restaurant, yet, he said, he has no control over how his business is represented. There is no way for him to get rid of the ad next to the Google listing.

“Google is it,” Mr. Ding said in an interview. “I would love for small business owners that don’t have the clout or the influence to have more say about how their business is represented.”

There are countless small business owners out there like Andrew Ding.

Executives at Yelp have pushed for action against Google for years, but the U.S. authorities have done nothing. The EU has stepped in to partially fill the vacuum, but small businesses in the United States need a regulator in their own country on the job.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

DOJ antitrust chief has Google in his sights

It’s about time.

In a speech today, the top antitrust official at the United States Department of Justice assailed Google and Amazon as “digital gatekeepers” that are the “only significant players” in several crucial markets.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google loomed large over [Makan] Delrahim’s speech — first as a potential beneficiary of the U.S. government’s antitrust case against Microsoft Corp., and then as a company that pursued potentially problematic agreements itself in the search market.

Delrahim described “coordinated conduct that creates or enhances market power,” citing a proposed 2008 agreement between Google and Yahoo to have the former power search ads for the latter. The department told the companies it would file suit against the agreement and the companies backed away, Delrahim said.

The DOJ recently launched an industry probe and is reportedly investigating Google, while the FTC is looking into Amazon.

Interestingly, Delrahim is a former lobbyist for Google, and this has prompted calls for him to recuse himself from the Google investigation by other Google critics.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google is fleecing publishers: Company made $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018, study says

This unfair arrangement needs to end.

$4,700,000,000.

It’s more than the combined ticket sales of the last two “Avengers” movies. It’s more than what virtually any professional sports team is worth. And it’s the amount that Google made from the work of news publishers in 2018 via search and Google News, according to a study to be released on Monday by the News Media Alliance.

The journalists who create that content deserve a cut of that $4.7 billion, said David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the alliance, which represents more than 2,000 newspapers across the country, including The New York Times.

“They make money off this arrangement,” Mr. Chavern said, “and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers.”

Google, of course, wants to protect this lucrative profit machine, so it has disputed the figures.

But whatever the figures are, the essential point here is that Google is a digital gatekeeper which is using its position to profit at the expense of publishers. Google makes and distributes Google Chrome, it develops Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, which it bundles its apps with, it operates the news and web search engines that people use to access information, including news. And of course it makes a lot of money selling advertising.

“If you look at the reason they have such high engagement on their platforms, increasingly news is the No. 1 driver,” media executive Terrance C.Z. Egger told the New York Times. “Given that, they wouldn’t want to see news go away. And yet the unintended consequence is we need to share the revenue or get paid for the content that we produce.”

Yep. Journalism, like other things worth having, isn’t free. Someone has to produce it. If society ceases valuing journalism, there will be less journalism.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Now we’ve got you! With much of the world on Chrome, Google plans to monetize its browser and stop people from using content blockers

Changes are coming to Chrome that will render many popular extensions (including those that block ads) unusable. And that’s by design. Google is a search and advertising apparatus first, and that cash cow must be protected.

Back in January, Google announced a proposed change to Chrome’s extensions system, called Manifest V3, that would stop current ad blockers from working efficiently. In a response to the overwhelming negative feedback, Google is standing firm on Chrome’s ad blocking changes, sharing that current ad blocking capabilities will be restricted to enterprise users.

Manifest V3 comprises a major change to Chrome’s extensions system, including a revamp to the permissions system and a fundamental change to the way ad blockers operate. In particular, modern ad blockers, like uBlock Origin and Ghostery, use Chrome’s webRequest API to block ads before they’re even downloaded.

uBlock Origin developer Raymond Hill notes:

Google’s primary business is incompatible with unimpeded content blocking. Now that Google Chrome product has achieve high market share, the content blocking concerns as stated in its 10K filing are being tackled.

Even Google admits this.

New and existing technologies could affect our ability to customize ads and/or could block ads online, which would harm our business.

Technologies have been developed to make customizable ads more difficult or to block the display of ads altogether and some providers of online services have integrated technologies that could potentially impair the core functionality of third-party digital advertising. Most of our Google revenues are derived from fees paid to us in connection with the display of ads online. As a result, such technologies and tools could adversely affect our operating results.

“We are starting to see Google’s conflict of interest arising,” independent security consultant Sean Wright said in comments to cybersecurity consultant “Google relies on the revenue of advertising, so one can see why they would make such a move.”

Wright recommends switching from Chrome to Brave and deploying a Pi-hole at home.

(We at Google Watchdog prefer Firefox.)