Google Rails Against “Anti-Tech” in U.S Congress Bills

Posted on January 19, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Google with 23 Comments

With the U.S. Congress set to debate new legislation that could rein in the power of Big Tech, Google says it has some concerns.

“Every day, millions of Americans use online services like Google Search, Maps, and Gmail to find new information and get things done,” Google and Alphabet president and chief legal officer Kent Walker writes in a new post to the firm’s The Keyword blog. “Research shows these free services provide thousands of dollars a year in value to the average American, and polls show that 90 percent of Americans like our products and services.”

Antitrust isn’t a popularity contest, of course, and consumers’ inability to understand what is good for them doesn’t really factor in either. Instead, antitrust law is at least partially “about ensuring that companies are competing hard to build their best products for consumers,” as Walker notes. Google’s complaint is that the bills before Congress are “vague and sweeping provisions” that could break up popular services, benefiting a handful of companies while disadvantaging consumers.

Fair enough: anyone schooled in, say, Microsoft’s U.S. antitrust troubles from two decades ago will recall similar arguments, that bundling products and services has both positive and negative outcomes. The trick with antitrust is to prevent dominant corporations from unfairly stifling competition and innovation, which, in the long run, will in fact help consumers. That’s the part of antitrust law Google does not address here.

On that note, here are some specific Google complaints (in his words, not mine).

  • Americans might get worse, less relevant, and less helpful versions of products like Google Search and Maps … If you search for a place or an address, we may not be able to show you directions from Google Maps in your results … When you have an urgent question — like “stroke symptoms” — Google Search could be barred from giving you immediate and clear information, and instead be required to direct you to a mix of low-quality results … [and] when you search for local businesses, Google Search and Maps may be prohibited from highlighting information we gather about hours of operation, contact information, and reviews. That could hurt small businesses and local retailers, as well as their customers.
  • An “innovation by permission” requirement could force American technology companies to get approval from government bureaucrats before launching new features or even fixing problems, while foreign companies would be free to innovate. He adds that “foreign companies could also routinely access American technology as well as Americans’ data.”
  • Handicapping America’s technology leaders would threaten our leading sources of research and development spending — just as bipartisan voices in Congress are recognizing the need to increase American research and development investment to stay competitive in the global race for AI, quantum, and other advanced technologies.
  • National security experts from both parties have aligned in warning that current anti-tech bills could threaten America’s national security … These bills could prevent us from securing our products by default, and would introduce new privacy risks for [consumers].

Overall, Walker argues that the proposed laws would boost competitors—i.e. “competition”—and not consumers, which is a smart tact to take: U.S. antitrust law is typically more focused on consumers than competition, as compared to EU antitrust law, which is more focused on fair competition, generally speaking.

“We believe that updating technology regulations in areas like privacy, AI, and protections for kids and families could provide real benefits,” he concludes. “But breaking our products wouldn’t address any of these issues. Instead, it would eliminate helpful features, expose people to new privacy and security risks, and weaken America’s technological leadership. There’s a better way. Congress shouldn’t rush to judgment, and should instead take more time to consider the unintended consequences of these bills.”

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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Google Rails Against “Anti-Tech” in U.S Congress Bills”

  1. Donte

    I use YouTube and nothing else Google. I have done this for years now.

    "Americans might get worse, less relevant, and less helpful versions of products like Google Search"

    or they will probably get better, less biased/ad focused results.

    I use DuckDuck. I will occasionally try Google if I think my results are off. They never are...but I do get the reminder of how 1/3 to 1/2 half of the first page results are ad's when I do try Google. Bing is even worse.

    This is long overdue and probably not enough in the end.

  2. scottkillen

    Oddly, bing gives better results for a "stroke symptoms" search than google...

  3. navarac

    Bearing in mind I'm a non-US citizen ----- I firmly believe that politicians are hardly the best idiots to legislate for tech. Half the time they have limited understanding about anything apart from how to get re-elected.

    • anoldamigauser

      Are you suggesting that we are not electing exceptional idiots? As an American, I have to firmly commit to the idea of American Exceptionalism, though I have to admit that Boris Johnson gives our politicians a run for their money.

      • wright_is

        Living in Germany for the last 20 years, I look at my old homeland and the USA and it beggars belief, what is going on there.

        During the last 2 years, we had a scientist as leader and we have an epidemiologist as Health Secretary. They know what they are talking about and they know when to get out the way and let experts deliver the information.

        Scandals in the UK about cronyism get swept under the carpet, here we had a couple of ministers who tried to get in on the PP2 mask business, they had resigned and cleared their offices within days of their involvement being made public, yet the cabinet in the UK seems to just shrug off such scandals.

        As a child, growing up in the UK, the politicians there would have "fallen on their swords", for the good of the Country, or at least the good of the Party. How times have changed, and not for the better.

        The news here, over the last 4 - 5 years, has just looked at the UK and USA as if they can't believe what they are actually seeing. Because the media here had no side to take in either country, the ridiculousness of decisions coming out of them were openly ridiculed, and it was hard to belief that the people in the US and the UK were actually swallowing what the clowns in charge were saying and doing.

        The same at the moment with Johnson, nobody can really understand how he can still be in office, if it had happened in Germany, his lying in front of Parliament would have cost him his job at least 18 months ago, if not longer.

        Interestingly, since Biden took over in the US, the amount of news coverage over US politics has fallen dramatically, because it is more "normal" and boring, compared to his predecessor.

      • lvthunder

        I absolutely believe in American Exceptionalism. I just don't think it's that way because of the politicians. Well not today's politicians at least. I think it's because the Constitution allows people to be great. I also think people who live in other countries should think they are Exceptional as well. It just might be in different areas.

    • lvthunder

      Sadly what you say is true. That's OK though. No one knows everything. When they get into an area they don't understand they need to rely on their staff to know what to do. Those government officials who are on banking committees for instance should have crypto and decentralized finance users on their staff.

      • arjay

        I used to work with Federal employees. The two takeaways I had from that experience were "unqualified for the job" and "lazy".

    • david.thunderbird

      From where I sit in Idaho, most Americans don't understand tech or big business, so they elect people that don't understand tech or big business. They just want a bigger share of the dream.

  4. eric_rasmussen

    There are some legitimate concerns here. After passage of the DMCA, a lot of colleges and universities gutted their security-focused classes because digging into crypto algorithms and attack vectors of current products is specifically forbidden by the DMCA. There are no such requirements in China or India, so engineering students graduating from colleges in those countries have a better idea of how security should be implemented and how things are broken.

    Not that it really matters, though. Innovation is dead in the U.S. thanks to decades of ridiculous patents and broken IP laws. It's just that too few people realize the significance of this right now; in the decades to come it will seem obvious in hindsight, but by then it will be too late to course-correct and China will be the world's hub of innovation.

  5. anoldamigauser

    “Every day, millions of Americans use online services like Google Search, Maps, and Gmail to find new information and get things done,...”

    And Google collects all this information to build profiles on these "customers" and anyone they keep in their contacts, or those they email, or in any way interact with, even if these other people have no direct relationship with Google. They then use this information to target these individuals with advertisements, because one must remember, Google is not a technology company except in the manner of how it gathers information to target ads.

    " Research shows these free services provide thousands of dollars a year in value..."

    It is a mischaracterization to call these services free. People are paying for them; they just do not understand the currency they are using.

    "These bills could prevent us from securing our products by default, and would introduce new privacy risks for [consumers]."

    For anyone associated with Google to talk about new privacy risks for consumers is just laughable. Perhaps, Google keeps the data it collects private, but it is also collected by all the companies partaking in their ecosystem. They are also required to hand it over to government agencies and law enforcement, when requested, in any country where they do business.

    Google does make really good applications (except perhaps for G-Mail which is awful), and I would gladly pay to use them. I just prefer that the currency of the transaction not be my privacy.

    • nine54

      This. These services are not free, and I could get behind measures that require tech companies to quantify the value of the services they are providing in exchange for user data. If I pay a company for a product or service, it's very clear how much revenue that company is taking in from me. In Google's case, it is not clear. I have no easy way to evaluate whether the price I'm paying (even if $0) represents a fair trade and good value for what I'm giving up.

      In other words, if the services is free, then how does Google make money? This should be transparent to users: not obfuscated in legal jargon and lengthy terms of service with vague references about aggregating and reselling data to third parties. If I knew how much money Google makes off of my data, that alone would put competitors in a new light, especially competitors with a different business model. I can pay $50 per year for email or pay $0 for Gmail, but Google will make approximately $500 per year with the data they collect from using their service. That puts the cost of paid services into perspective.

  6. lvthunder

    What did they expect when they backed all those Democrats? For as long as I've been alive the Democrat Party has been anti-big business.

    • anoldamigauser

      Nonsense. The Democrats like big business as well as the Republicans, that is where the donations are.

      That said, this is not really the forum for politics.

      • lvthunder

        Look at the policies and not the political donations. Just listen to what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (leaders of the progressive wing of the party) are saying. They want these companies heavily regulated and broken up.

        The Republicans just don't want big tech to censor people.

        Just to be clear I'm not talking about individuals. Just the politicians. The political donations are just an attempt to get the politicians to look the other way when it comes to their company.

        • anoldamigauser

          The First Amendment does not forbid a private entity from banning someone from its communication platform. Perhaps if those who were banned were not spreading misinformation, a polite term for lies, then they would not be banned. Maybe they should remember that in addition to free speech, they have the right to remain silent.

          But again, this is not the forum for politics.

          • nine54

            That's a slippery slope. Who decides what is "misinformation" and what isn't? You say "misinformation is a polite term for 'lies'"; I say it's become a euphemism for "opinions we don't like."

            And where does it stop? People can lie about all sorts of things. If someone has "misinformation" on their FB profile and lies about the jobs they had, what they did over the weekend, or what they had for breakfast, will FB take action? No, of course not. They only care about "misinformation" related to politically divisive topics.

            Big Tech has defined what it deems as allowable content on certain topics and is regulating discourse based on conformity to this definition. That regulation could be in the form of algorithmic suppression, censorship, or flags such as "misinformation." Is Big Tech allowed to do this? Sure. But then it clearly is acting as a publisher--not a platform--and should be subject to the legal ramifications as such.

            You can't have it both ways: you can't claim to be a platform while editorializing the content on your platform. A random sampling of terms of service violations should statistically reflect the demographics of the user base. If nearly 50% of the country could run afoul of Big Tech's terms of service for expressing a political view, then the "platforms" are editorializing.

            • anoldamigauser

              Again, I will say this is not the forum for political discussion. That would require beer.

              Those who have run afoul of Big Tech's terms of service lately...looking at you Rand Paul and Marjorie Greene...have not run afoul of them for stating opinions. They ran afoul of them for making repeated, patently false statements regarding COVID. Even then, they were warned several times before action was taken, and that action was not universal, so the same BS could be found with little effort.

              • nine54

                Will take you up on the beer! :) There are hard facts, sure. But much of what is presented as fact is more accurately an interpretation of data, which could be flawed or imperfect in some way. Should Democratic politicians be banned for repeating the claim that the Build Back Better bill not only would not increase inflation, but might actually decrease it--in contrast to the prevailing opinion among economists? Regarding Covid, it now seems very likely that Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths have been inflated, as many suspected. Should there be repercussions for those who either spread this data or censored those who questioned it?

                People say inaccurate, dumb, incomplete, or even completely false, things all the time. If Rep. Greene says something that's been proven wrong, her colleagues can counter her. And people can reply and point out all the supporting evidence that contradicts her. Self-regulation. Like we had before 2020.

                The prevailing concern is about fair treatment and an equal application of the rules. If a referee is constantly penalizing the same team, it doesn't mean that the team didn't commit the penalties in question. But it might mean that the referee is scrutinizing that team, but not the other team and, therefore, missing penalties committed by the other team. That's the issue. It's selective enforcement. Is that allowed? Is it legal? Perhaps. But then the platform is, in fact, not a neutral platform.

          • lvthunder

            I never said anything about the 1st amendment. You did. The government gives these companies special protections that other industries don't receive. But this is way outside of the scope of this article.

            • anoldamigauser

              Social media companies are not common carriers and, therefore, they are not required to host anything anyone says. Hence the reference to the First Amendment. This protection extends to most companies, including radio and broadcast channels.

              They can, though rarely do, remove content and ban users. Getting banned requires one to clear a pretty high bar.

            • nine54

              Not really out of scope. There is bipartisan support for antitrust, but for very different reasons, one of which is the alleged monopoly on social media and platform vs. publisher debate.

  7. sscywong

    "Research shows these free services provide thousands of dollars a year in value to the average American"

    and Google makes thousands of dollars a MONTH from each average American