It’s well established that Amazon dominates at dominating industries adjacent to retail. But that’s what makes its Just Walk Out solution more suspect. By doubling down on retail as a service, Amazon is courting enterprise customers in the very industry — brick-and-mortar retail — that its main e-commerce business gutted. The Seattle behemoth is asking firms like Walmart and Macy’s to pay it for the chance to meet the same Amazon-driven standards that put some of the retail champions of yesteryear out of business.
Apple execs told the Times that the company’s apps show up so frequently in searches not because it tips the scales but because its apps are already very popular and are designed to please consumers. But that logic is in itself concerning: A company with nearly unparalleled power and insight into what consumers are looking for in terms of apps uses its understanding of consumer desire and vast resources to create apps that will defeat rivals (especially startups or young companies) in the App Store it owns. Even if there is no foul algorithmic play, the competitive advantage is clear. The question is whether it’s enough for antitrust action.
More than half of US state attorneys general are investigating Google for antitrust violations, the Washington Post reported. Officials anonymously told the Post that the probes are expected to be announced on Monday.
This marks a serious escalation in mostly recent government efforts to increase regulation of the giant tech firms that have become the most powerful private enterprises in the world, squashing competition in their home industries and disrupting adjacent ones. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are already looking into the potentially anticompetitive power of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple.
Google’s calculated risk in creating a low bar for verification works out fine in a world where most business owners simply want to gain legitimate access to their own listings, and most businesses do operate within those ethical boundaries. But as we’ve seen elsewhere at this stage in the evolution of social networks, fraud and deceptive manipulation have become a kind of ghost in the machine, dominating darker sectors of the local marketplace and creating an atmosphere of distrust that may eventually prove more broadly contagious.
All of this is only possible when lots of activity is consolidated on a few platforms. Just as fake accounts attempting to engineer the 2016 election thrived in the vast and complex Facebook ecosystem, so too has Google’s dominance in local attracted its own horde of opportunists, drawn like moths to its flame. Indeed, fraud in local listings is just the latest in a long history of attempts, from link farms to keyword spam, to manipulate loopholes in Google’s regulations and algorithms.
Blumenthal to Mihm: It seems to me that Google could take the fake listings issue off the table by seriously investing in cleaning up the fake listing and fake review issue. I just don’t think that they think that way.
At a minimum, as the company that has the monopoly in the local space, Google faces the expectation and responsibility to provide a service that truly serves the public and businesses. And they seem to forget that.
Mihm to Blumenthal: I’m not averse to the idea of the government regulating Google’s practices in Maps or local search, but it feels like rewarding Yelp in particular is not going to bring consumers any particular benefit, nor will it meaningfully benefit small businesses, as Elizabeth Warren seems to indicate is a primary goal of her plan.
If anything, Google has gone out of its way to help small businesses compete in its search results with the introduction of the local pack and the Venice update, whereas small businesses continue to rate Yelp as poorly as any company in tech.
Forcing Google to split Maps-related business into a standalone “geo” unit would foster a more diverse technology ecosystem. But as far as Google’s review practices are concerned, regulators should not be convinced by an irrational argument that indexation of Google reviews has any bearing on the harm created for, or benefit gained by, consumers.
The European Commission has laid down a record $5 billion fine against Google for allegedly monopolistic search practices that have essentially forced users to turn to Google for mobile searches on the company’s Android devices.