Antitrust laws have existed since the late 19th century to prevent any enterprise or group from stifling its competitors and gaining total price control in a particular market.
The purpose of these laws is to protect consumers from price inflation and foster healthy competition among businesses, which leads to innovation and a thriving market system.
Internet search engine Google Inc. has a great deal of online market power – and several European companies have filed complaints about the misuse of it.
Google handles more than 80 percent of Web searches and advertising within those searches in some parts of Europe and 64 percent of online searches in the U.S. compared to Yahoo’s 21 percent and Microsoft’s 8 percent, according to the New York Times.
While Google’s large presence makes it vulnerable to attack, the complaints lodged against it are likely unfounded.
One of the main allegations is that Google’s range of its own Web sites and search services for news, maps, books and others are ranked higher in the company’s searches than sites owned by competitors like Microsoft.
Companies who filed official complaints claim that Google “plays down” its sites in order to gain an unfair advantage with consumers.
However, Julia Holtz, the senior competition counsel for Google, said to the Times that Google’s algorithm – a calculation system used to prioritize and display sites – tends to give an advantage to sites with original content over one containing a lot of links. By holding all sites to the same consistent standard, Google is not giving itself an advantage.
Domination of an industry by companies like Google and Microsoft does not by itself warrant antitrust penalties. However, unlike Google, Microsoft has been fined billions of dollars for engaging in corporate practices to thwart software competitors, thus violating antitrust laws.
That kind of professional misconduct by Google has yet to be proven. The European Commission is examining and handling the allegations against the company.
Google offers many of its services for free and is far from trying to put its competitors out of business. Google publishes how it prioritizes Web sites, so companies that want to be ranked higher just have to follow the guidelines.
If companies do not create Web sites according to Google’s guidelines, then it imposes a “penalty” on them by moving them down in the search rankings.
Shivaun Raff, chief executive of Foundem – one of the companies filing a complaint – said to the Times that it took several years to remove a penalty and move to a decent rank on Google.
“These penalties are indiscriminate, cause collateral damage, and once you have been struck by them, it is almost impossible to get yourself out of them,” Raff said.
But if companies with formal complaints against Google do not like the way it does business, there are other search engines. Google does not owe them anything.
Through shrewd business tactics, Google expanded into the largest Internet search engine that benefits its partners, competitors and the general public. Despite allegations, there is no evidence that it is violating antitrust laws by suppressing technological development and competition or seeking full price control on its services.
Margarita Abramova is a freshman majoring in mass communications.