Politics

The DOJ went narrow on Google. That may be good news for the rest of Big Tech.

The antitrust complaint focuses on facts specific to the search giant. But there are warning signs for Facebook, Amazon and Apple, too.

The DOJ went narrow on Google. That may be good news for the rest of Big Tech.

Despite all the bluster, the DOJ's legal argument is narrow and fact-based, focused not on Google's size but primarily on the contracts it has with other companies.

Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In the opening paragraphs of Tuesday's antitrust complaint, the Justice Department suggests that the problem with Google is … pretty much everything. The "scrappy startup" has become not just "a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet," but an "empire" that's too big, too rich and too much in control of everything related to search.

But that's not what the DOJ is suing over. Despite all the bluster — "Google is so dominant that 'Google' is not only a noun to identify the company and the Google search engine but also a verb that means to search the internet" — the DOJ's legal argument is narrow and fact-based, focused not on Google's size but primarily on the contracts it has with other companies.

That should be a relief to the other big tech companies. Instead of making legal arguments that could apply with equal force to any of them, the DOJ's case takes aim at a set of facts that are unique to Google.

"It's factual and narrow, and that may limit its scope," said Gary Reback, a veteran Silicon Valley lawyer who has been credited with getting the government to bring a case against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Before the Google case landed, industry watchers had speculated that the case would include some discussion of self-preferencing, or the allegation that Google prioritizes its own products in search results. But the DOJ didn't go there, instead homing in on Google's agreements that require mobile phone manufacturers like Apple to keep Google as their default search engine.

A discussion of "self-preferencing" might have left Amazon vulnerable, as critics have long accused Amazon of prioritizing its own private-label products. And a broader indictment of Google's practice of buying market dominance could also spell trouble for Facebook, which deals with its competitors in a similarly spendy way. Facebook could have come off even worse, given the email evidence that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to buy up competitors to kill competition.

And — big talk at the beginning notwithstanding — the complaint specifically avoids concluding that the sheer size and success of Google is a cause for legal concern. That might be too much for pro-business Republicans to swallow.

The big tech companies are certainly not out of the woods. One worry: the way the DOJ defines the relevant market.

Google has argued that it's got plenty of competition because Expedia offers search results in travel and Amazon offers search results in retail. Similarly, Amazon has argued that it's in competition with every brick-and-mortar store in the world, and Apple has resisted the argument that its App Store is a market unto itself.

With Google, the DOJ has taken a much narrower view of the relevant market, defining it as "general search"; think less Amazon and Expedia, more DuckDuckGo. Similarly narrow definitions could spell trouble for the other big tech firms.

"This confirms what [the tech companies] suspected, which is that government agencies are not going to accept their universe-and-all-it-contains market definitions," said former FTC Chairman William Kovacic.

There's one other big worry for Google's big tech brethren: the line where the DOJ says, "When a consumer uses Google, the consumer provides personal information and attention in exchange for search results. Google then monetizes the consumer's information and attention by selling ads."

For years, some experts have argued that digital platforms can't violate antitrust laws because they offer their services for free. The DOJ has now taken the view that companies like Google and Facebook don't really offer their services for free because they monetize users data with ads.

"This confirms that the government is looking at these issues not in the way the tech companies would like," Kovacic said.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins