By Morgan Kogan, News Editor
Supreme Court Justice Louis J. Brandeis once said, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” To what extent does our current government uphold these words, and in essence, our democracy? How can we as Americans hold companies accountable in a globally-focused society? Does wealth accumulate on the internet the same way it did a century ago in oil and railroad tracks? The Department of Justice, which filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Google on Oct. 20, seeks to answer these questions and more.
The Justice Department accused Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc, of violating section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, a series of regulations first enacted in 1890 to prevent monopolies in the oil and railroad industries. Google, according to the lawsuit, holds a monopoly over internet search services and advertising to such an extent that its rivals are unable to compete in the search engine economy.
On the other hand, Google claims, consumers have the ability to switch search engines and therefore competition is allowed to thrive despite Google’s grasp on the industry. This logic is flawed, though. “If competition really were just ‘one click away,’ as Google suggests, why have they invested so heavily to be the default choice on Web browsers and mobile phones?” Chief Executive of Yelp Jeremy Stoppelman said.
If anything, the 2020 lawsuit proves how integral the internet is to modern American society. The writers of the Sherman Antitrust Act were concerned about robber barons and Standard Oil, not the internet, which would not come to fruition for another century. Nevertheless, by enacting the antitrust suit, The Department of Justice has indicated that they intend to protect Americans’ right to competitive markets in both tangible and intangible economies.
Google is such a common presence in our lives that the word “search” is replaced by “Google.” That in itself is a cause for concern. How, even if competitors like Yahoo and Bing still exist (for now at least), can the consumer be expected to seek out alternative search engines when Google is the automatic selection on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and other browsers?
Even if Google’s intrinsic presence is normalized by this point, their influence could set a dangerous precedent for the future. Currently viewed as a seemingly innocent search engine, Google’s power could be used to manipulate Americans into viewing biased information, supporting unknown causes, or advocating for causes pertaining to Google at the detriment of others. Some may view The Department of Justice’s suit as heavy handed or unnecessary, but it is a preventative measure in regards to what may come. No single company should hold power over an entire industry; this is exactly what the Sherman Antitrust Act sought to prevent a century ago, and though the economic industries have changed immensely, since then the purpose and principles of the law have not.