Spoutin' Off: Google is growing

By Michael Rau

September 20, 2007

I've been thinking about Google a lot lately.

It started a little over a month ago after I wrote about Google's desire to buy the rights to part of the wireless frequency spectrum to be auctioned off soon by the Federal government.

As I contemplated the ramifications of this, I wondered if, based on all the things they have their fingers in, is Google getting too big?

Here's the deal: In 2009, a huge swath of radio-frequency bandwidth is going to become available when television broadcasters complete the transition to digital transmission. Various entities that use wireless systems to send information, whether voice as in cellular phone systems, data as in wireless Internet access, or video as direct competition to terrestrial television broadcast systems, are vying for control of the frequencies.

Google has expressed concern that if cable-TV companies gain any control of these frequencies, they'll be in a position to squelch any potential competition in high-speed Internet services, as well as delivery of television programming. Thus, they've publicly discussed the possibility of trying to by part of this spectrum themselves.

I think this is a very legitimate concern. I'm just not sure Google is the right entity to be delivering that message.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of monopolization. I've railed against Microsoft for years based on their domination of the industry through predatory behavior. And let's face it - There's virtually nothing in terms of technology that Google doesn't have some interest or involvement in.

I would even point out that Google has engaged in a practice I loathe; that of eliminating competition through acquisition rather than innovation, meaning they go out and buy competing companies. They're currently in the process of trying to acquire DoubleClick - a huge company that's been at the forefront of Internet advertising almost from the beginning of the commercialization of the World Wide Web. The U.S. Senate is concerned enough that they're holding hearings into possible anti-trust issues.

In all fairness, I like Google. The two guys who founded the company seem like decent eggs with some sense of social responsibility, who put their money where their mouths are.

Americans seem to like the current uber-predatory business environment, which sadly, encourages companies which otherwise might be more inclined to being socially responsible to behave otherwise.

But the Google guys have been at the forefront of many things which are important to me, such as their ongoing support of the open-source community, as well as being strong advocates for the free wireless movement and net neutrality.

Because of the current corporate environment, only companies with the size and clout of a Google have any chance of taking on major players like Microsoft and the cable-TV industry, and have any chance of being successful.

And it's hard to argue that they're not blazing trails in a way that others aren't.

How about Google Earth? That's got to be one of the most amazing and fun online tools anywhere. And then there's Google Docs, a fantastic little online text editor, and Google Spreadsheets, and just recently, Google Presentation. These represent interesting competition for Microsoft Office (although admittedly, these online apps are much less powerful).

There's Google Maps, Google Page Creator (which let's you build Web pages online),

Google also owns YouTube, which has become the repository of choice for just about every video imaginable (although I kinda wish they'd stayed independent).

I remain somewhat concerned with Google's commitment to personal privacy. Their previous cooperation with the Chinese government was disturbing. And although I really don't cotton to this particular fear, some are expressing concern that the technology used by Google Earth could be used for spying by non-government entities (as if I'm comfortable with the government engaging in such behavior).

And of course, Google's bread-and-butter remains searches.

Now let's be realistic. Google doesn't do this stuff out of the kindness of their hearts. Google makes its income from advertising. They insert advertising in all kinds of places online and generate income off of the number of times people click on those ads.

The areas where Google may be pushing the limit in terms or predatory behavior is in their ongoing acquisition of online advertising methodologies (such as its acquisition of DoubleClick), and without question, they're becoming extremely aggressive in the manner and method in which they push ads into places you'd rather not see them.

This is the area, unseen by those of us in the public who enjoy Google's tools, that warrants ongoing scrutiny.

So is Google becoming too large and powerful? I'd say they're on the bubble. As long as they keep cranking out great and innovative products, I'd be hard pressed to recommend stifling them.

But on the other hand, I don't want Google or any company acquiring too much control over the Internet.

The Federal government has done an abysmal job with Microsoft (as opposed to the European Union which has forced Microsoft to behave somewhat responsibly).

I hope they keep a better eye on Google.

Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.

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