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Google Subpoena: An Attack on Capitalism

As the FTC and the Senate ratchet up their antitrust probe of search giant Google Inc., the bloggosphere has started to ask about the sincerity of the company's "do no evil" slogan. They'd be better off asking: "Who is John Galt?"

If you've read Ayn Rand's 1957 classic "Atlas Shrugged," much of what goes on in today's political realm is going to sound familiar. Corpulent Congressmen, elected with the help of massive (and often hidden) campaign contributions from the companies that they later favor with tax breaks and government bail-outs, throw roadblocks in front of any individual or company that doesn't play the game.

Legislators demand the CEO grovel before them so that they can be seen on camera "defending the common man" when, in reality, they defend mediocrity. They support irresponsibility. They pay nothing but lip service to the American values that most of us hold dear -- honesty, responsibility, hard work, liberty and justice.

That's my read on the Google antitrust investigation and the fact that several Senators have said they're "disappointed with Google's response." Has Google refused to testify? Hardly. The company wants to send its highly skilled and articulate corporate counsel David Drummond.

The Senate is threatening to subpoena CEO Larry Page or chairman Eric Schmidt instead. Why wouldn't Google want to send Page or Schmidt to discuss the government's antitrust probe? Well, I don't know. But we could speculate that it could be because they're not lawyers and don't understand antitrust law, unlike (say) their corporate counsel. Thus they'd be less prepared to answer questions. That, however, plays into the hands of publicity mongering legislators, who want their witnesses to appear evasive (even if they're merely confused). Of course, for Americans, this theater does no one any good.

If the government does have some information about how Google is violating the nation's antitrust laws, let's hear it. Ask Drummond, the appropriate person at Google, to appear and answer questions. Make legislators ask legitimate questions about how Google is coercing either consumers or competitors to maintain its dominant position. Coercion would make for an antitrust violation. My guess is that they don't have that.

Let's be clear, market dominance does not equal antitrust. To have violated antitrust laws, you must be actively working to reduce free competition. When it comes to Internet search and advertising, Google is dominant because they're better. Unless there is some evidence of coercion that we've yet to hear, this is not the same as the 1990s Microsoft antitrust case.

For those who don't remember, back in the late 1990s, when you got a computer loaded with a Windows operating system, it was "bundled" with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft strong-armed its vendors into making it difficult for consumers to get access to the then-leading browser, Netscape Navigator, as a way of driving Netscape out of the business and unfairly capturing a dominant market position, according to the antitrust case.

Google, which now offers its own browser called Chrome, clearly does not pressure anyone to use either its browser nor its search engine when we access the web from our homes and offices. When I open up the Chrome web browser, it's just as easy to get to Microsoft's search engine, Bing, as it is to get to Google.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers are still bundled onto every computer I buy that includes Microsoft software. To get Chrome, I had to download it. The same holds true for getting an email account through gmail -- Google's equivalent of Microsoft Outlook. I had Outlook as part of my "bundle." I had to affirmatively seek out gmail.

Why did I go through the trouble? Because it's better. I evaluated the services as a consumer. Chrome is faster than Explorer. Gmail is better at filtering spam. Google didn't engage in anti-competitive behavior to get me as a customer. They provided better service.

Now Google is making great strides with its Android phones, surpassing even iPhone sales. Is it forcing companies to use Android? I've seen no evidence of that. The company chose to give away its operating system, allowing a variety of phone and tablet developers to use Android as a base to offer the bells and whistles they think their customers will like, including videos that use Adobe's flash player -- verbotten on iPhones and iPads. Anti-competitive? I'd call it consumer friendly. It galls the heck out of me that I can't watch a video with flash on an iPad.

So now, let's go back to the spectacle of the Senate hearings. Would hampering Google help or harm competition? Would it help or harm the consumer? Has anybody else out there read Atlas Shrugged?

On CBSNews & CNET:
Google in the Antitrust Crosshairs
FTC, Senate Ratchet Up Google Antitrust Probe
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