Google has been heavily criticized for going against its own public philosophy of a generally open Internet; Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO once said, “The prize is a world in which every human being starts life with the same access to information, the same opportunities to learn and the same power to communicate. I believe that is worth fighting for.” However, a company statement argued that search results is inconsistent with their beliefs.
Criticism of Google
Aggressive and contrived tax avoidance
Misuse and manipulation of search results
Use of others’ intellectual property
Violate people’s privacy
Censorship of search results and content
Energy consumption of its servers
Concerns over traditional business issues such as:
— Restraint of trade
— Idea stealing
— Being an “Ideological Echo Chamber”
Alphabet Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program.
Google’s stated mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful;” this mission, and the means used to accomplish it have raised concerns among the company’s critics. Much of the criticism pertains to issues that have not yet been addressed by cyber law.
Google has been accused by a number of countries of avoiding paying tens of billions of dollars of tax through a convoluted scheme of inter-company licensing agreements and transfers to tax havens.
Google has used highly contrived and artificial distinctions to avoid paying billions of pounds in corporate tax owed by its UK operations. On May 16, 2013, Margaret Hodge, the chair of the United Kingdom Public Accounts Committee, accused Google of being “calculated and […] unethical” over its use of the scheme. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has claimed that this scheme of Google is “capitalism,” and that he was “very proud” of it.
In 2015, the UK Government introduced a new law intended to penalize Google and other large multinational corporations’ artificial tax avoidance.
In January 2016, Google agreed to make a payment of £130m to the UK tax authorities.
Google cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the period of 2007 to 2009 using a technique that moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and The Netherlands to Bermuda. Afterwards, the company started to send £8 billion in profits a year to Bermuda. Google’s income shifting—involving strategies known to lawyers as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich”—helped reduce its overseas tax rate to 2.4 percent, the lowest of the top five U.S. technology companies by market capitalization, according to regulatory filings in six countries.
According to Joe Wilcox of Microsoft-Watch, Google has increased its dominance of search, becoming an information gatekeeper, despite the conflict of interest between information gathering and the advertising surrounding that information. His colleagues do not share the same view.
The European Commission has pursued several competition law cases against Google, namely:
The complaint that Google abused its position as a dominant search engine to favor its own services over those of competitors. In particular, Google operated a free comparison shopping website Froogle, which it abandoned in favor of a paid-placement-only site called Google Shopping. Other comparison sites complained of a precipitous drop in web traffic due to changes in the Google search algorithm, and some were driven out of business. The investigation began in 2010 and concluded in July 2017 with a €2.42 billion fine against the parent company Alphabet, and an order to change its practices within 90 days.
Complaint opened in 2015 that the dominance of the Android operating system was abused to make it difficult for competing for third-party apps and search engines to be pre-installed on mobile phones. (See European Union vs. Google.)
Complaint opened in 2016 that Google abused its market dominance to prevent competing advertising companies to sell ads to websites already using Google AdSense
Misuse of search results
In 2006/2007, a group of Austrian researchers observed a tendency to misuse the Google engine as a “reality interface.” Ordinary users and journalists tend to rely on the first pages of Google search, assuming that everything not listed there is either not important or simply does not exist. The researchers say that “Google has become the main interface for our whole reality.
To be precise: with the Google interface, the user gets the impression that the search results imply a kind of totality. In fact, one only sees a small part of what one could see if one also integrates other research tools.”
Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said in a 2007 interview with the Financial Times: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’” Schmidt reaffirmed this during a 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal: “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
Numerous companies and individuals, for example, MyTriggers.com and transport tycoon Sir Brian Souter have voiced concerns regarding the fairness of Google’s PageRank and search results after their websites disappeared from Google’s first-page results. In the case of MyTriggers.com, the Ohio-based shopping comparison search site accused Google of favoring its own services in search results (although the judge eventually ruled that the site failed to show harm to other similar businesses).
The page ranking algorithm of Google can and has been manipulated for political and humorous reasons. To illustrate the view that Google’s search engine could be subjected to manipulation, Google Watch implemented a Google bomb by linking the phrase “out-of-touch executives” to Google’s own page on its corporate management. The attempt was mistakenly attributed to disgruntled Google employees by The New York Times, which later printed a correction.
Daniel Brandt started the Google Watch website and has criticized Google’s PageRank algorithms, saying that they discriminate against new websites and favor established sites. Chris Beasley, who started Google Watch-Watch, disagrees, saying that Mr Brandt overstates the amount of discrimination that new websites face that will naturally rank lower when the ranking is based on a site’s “reputation.”
In Google’s world a site’s reputation is in part determined by how many and which other sites link to it (links from sites with a “better” reputation of their own carry more weight). Since new sites will seldom be as heavily linked as older more established sites, they aren’t as well known, won’t have as much of a reputation, and will receive a lower page ranking.
In testimony before a U.S. Senate antitrust panel in September 2011, Jeffrey Katz, the chief executive of NexTag, said that Google’s business interests conflict with its engineering commitment to an open-for-all Internet and that: “Google doesn’t play fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us.”
Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief of Yelp, said sites like his have to cooperate with Google because it is the gateway to so many users and “Google then gives its own product preferential treatment.” In earlier testimony at the same hearing Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman said that Google does not “cook the books” to favor its own products and services.
Google’s ambitious plans to scan millions of books and make them readable through its search engine have been criticized for copyright infringement. The Association for Learned and Professional Society Publishers and the Association of American University Presses both issued statements strongly opposing Google Print. They stated ”Google, an enormously successful company, claims a sweeping right to appropriate the property of others for its own commercial use unless it is told, case by case and instance by instance, not to.”
Links and cached data
Kazaa and the Church of Scientology have used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to demand that Google remove references to allegedly copyrighted material on their sites.
Search engines such as Google’s that link to sites in “good faith” fall under the safe harbor provisions of the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act which is part of DMCA. If they remove links to infringing content after receiving a takedown notice, they are not liable.
Google removes links to infringing content when requested, provided that supporting evidence is supplied. However, it is sometimes difficult to judge whether or not certain sites are infringing and Google (and other search engines) will sometimes refuse to remove web pages from its index.
To complicate matters there have been conflicting rulings from U.S. courts on whether simply linking to infringing content constitutes “contributory infringement” or not.
The New York Times has complained that the caching of their content during a web crawl, a feature utilized by search engines including Google Web Search, violates copyright.
Google observes Internet standard mechanisms for requesting that caching be disabled via the robots.txt file. And allows operators of a website to request that part or all of their site not be included in search engine results, or via META tags.
A content editor finds out whether a document can be crawled or archived, or whether the links on the document can be followed. The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled that Google’s caches do not constitute copyright infringement under American law in Field v. Google and Parker v. Google.
On February 20, 2017, Google agreed to a voluntary United Kingdom code of practice obligating it to demote links to copyright-infringing content in its search results.
Google Map Maker allows user-contributed data to be put into the Google Maps service, similar to OpenStreetMap it includes concepts such as organizing mapping parties and mapping for humanitarian efforts. It has been criticized for taking work done for free by the general public and claiming commercial ownership of it without returning any contributions back to the commons as their restrictive license makes it incompatible with most open projects by preventing the commercial use or use by competitive services.
Google breached copyright and deliberately stole code from the innovative Chinese company Sohu for an Input Method Editor and renamed it Google Pinyin.
The Justice Department is preparing to closely examine Google’s practices in search and other businesses. Photo: charles platiau/Reuters
Brent Kendall and
John D. McKinnon
WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is gearing up for an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, a move that could present a major new layer of regulatory scrutiny for the search giant, according to people familiar with the matter.
The department’s antitrust division in recent weeks has been laying the groundwork for the probe, the people said. The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust authority with the department, previously conducted a broad investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action, though Google made some voluntary changes to certain business practices.
The FTC and the department have been in talks recently on who would oversee any new antitrust investigation of a leading U.S. tech giant, and the commission agreed to give the Justice Department jurisdiction over Google, the people said.
With turf now settled, the department is preparing to closely examine Google’s business practices related to its search and other businesses, the people said.
It couldn’t immediately be learned whether Google has been contacted by the department. Third-party critics of the search giant, however, already have been in contact with Justice Department officials, some of the people familiar with the matter said.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did an FTC spokeswoman. Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Justice Department investigation would put Google—and potentially other tech giants—in an unwanted spotlight at a time when major internet companies already have seen their political fortunes turning, both in the U.S. and overseas.
The shift has come with multibillion-dollar antitrust fines for Google from the European Union. Facebook Inc. has come under intense fire over Russian use of its platform to meddle in the 2016 election. Policy makers also are increasingly skeptical of internet companies’ privacy practices, as well as their potential to create other public harm.
Alphabet, Google’s parent, typically is ranked among the world’s five largest firms by market capitalization, nourished by its powerful position in online advertising, a lucrative market that threatens to eclipse other forms of advertising. Along with Facebook, it has become a major player in the complex market. But other firms—notably Amazon.com Inc. —also have begun to compete for the business, raising competitive concerns for Google.
Increasingly, U.S. leaders have begun to question the size and dominance of some of the tech giants.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, called for the breakup of the nation’s top tech companies earlier this year, sending tremors through the large field of contenders for the party’s nomination and winning praise from populist liberal activists—as well as from Steve Bannon, a former strategist for President Trump.
Others candidates, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), a leading Democrat on antitrust issues, haven’t gone that far, but they have called for more scrutiny of big tech.
A recent letter from Sens. Klobuchar and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) urged the FTC to “take action” in response to antitrust and privacy concerns around companies such as Google and Facebook, noting the companies’ large market shares in internet markets such as search and advertising.
Some Republicans also have linked the companies’ size and influence to alleged stifling of conservative speech online—a charge the companies deny.
“If we have tech companies using the power of monopoly to censor political speech I think that raises real antitrust issues,” Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz said in an April hearing.
But Google would be a daunting foe for U.S. antitrust enforcers. Despite growing public concern about dominance by a few Silicon Valley giants, Google’s products remain highly popular with consumers, and the company has spent years developing a support network in Washington and around the country. It has been a funder of dozens of nonprofit groups active on antitrust issues across the political spectrum, including the American Antitrust Institute as well as several conservative think tanks.
The FTC created high expectations in its earlier Google investigation, but the company emerged largely unscathed. Some FTC staffers raised a variety of concerns internally about Google practices they believed to be anticompetitive, but they also said Google had strong procompetitive justifications for its actions and was focused on delivering services consumers liked.
The “evidence paints a complex portrait of a company working toward an overall goal of maintaining its market share by providing the best user experience, while simultaneously engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google’s monopoly power over search and search advertising,” one 2012 FTC staff memo said.
The rise of big tech has seen three corporate titans that didn’t exist 30 years ago—Amazon, Google, and Facebook—suddenly amassing the power to sway large parts of the U.S. economy and society, from the stock market to political discourse, from personal shopping habits to how small businesses sell their wares.
With their enormous size and dominance have come network advantages, data caches and economies of scale that can make it challenging for new rivals to succeed. Many firms that compete with those giants in one sector also depend on their platforms to reach customers, and they complain of being unfairly squeezed.
Supporters of the big tech companies say there is so much dynamism in the sector that the giants are sure to be knocked off soon. However, their power and reach keep growing.
Antitrust leaders at the Justice Department and the FTC have publicly acknowledged the competition concerns and said those issues merit close attention.
Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has said there is nothing wrong with a large tech firm winning its dominance through innovation, but he has said companies must compete fairly to achieve and maintain their position.
“Antitrust enforcers may need to take a close look to see whether competition is suffering and consumers are losing out on new innovations as a result of misdeeds by a monopoly incumbent,” Mr. Delrahim said last year in a speech about digital platforms at the University of Chicago.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Mr. Delrahim’s boss, voiced similar sentiments during his confirmation hearings in January.
“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Mr. Barr told senators. “You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”
U.S. Justice Department prepares Google antitrust probe: sources
(Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is preparing an investigation of Alphabet Inc's Google to determine whether the tech giant broke antitrust law in operating its sprawling online businesses, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Officials from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission, which both enforce antitrust law, met in recent weeks to give Justice jurisdiction over Google, said the sources, who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
The potential investigation represents the latest attack on a tech company by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused social media companies and Google of suppressing conservative voices on their platforms online.
One source said the potential investigation, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, focused on accusations that Google gave preference to its own businesses in searches.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said he could not confirm or deny that an investigation was being considered. Google declined comment.
Early in 2013, the FTC closed a long-running investigation of Google, giving it a slap on the wrist. Under FTC pressure, Google agreed to end the practice of "scraping" reviews and other data from rivals’ websites for its own products, and to let advertisers export data to independently assess campaigns.
Google's search, YouTube, reviews, maps and other businesses, which are largely free to consumers but financed through advertising, have catapulted it from a start-up to one of the world's richest companies in just two decades.
Along the way, it has made enemies in both the tech world, who have complained to law enforcers about its market dominance, and in Washington, where lawmakers have complained about issues from its alleged political bias to its plans for China.
TripAdvisor chief executive and co-founder Stephen Kaufer welcomed news that Google could face Justice Department antitrust scrutiny.
"TripAdvisor remains concerned about Google’s practices in the United States, the EU and throughout the world," Kaufer said in a statement.
"For the good of consumers and competition on the internet, we welcome any renewed interest by U.S. regulators into Google's anticompetitive behavior."
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has pushed for action to break up Google, as well as other big tech companies. Senator Kamala Harris, who is also running for president on the Democratic ticket, has agreed.
"This is very big news, and overdue," Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican Google critic, said on Twitter, regarding the investigation.
Google has faced a plethora of overseas probes.
Europe's competition authority, for one, hit Google with a 2.4-billion-euro ($2.7-billion) EU fine two years ago for unfairly promoting its own comparison shopping service.
Google has since offered to allow competitors to bid for advertising space at the top of a search page, giving them the chance to compete on equal terms.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave in California, Diane Bartz in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Sanders and Clarence Fernandez)
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