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March 1, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Seeking $335,000 in unpaid advertising bills, Google Inc. filed suit against a small Internet site in Ohio in October. The complaint was so routine it was just two sentences long. Last month, the small Internet site countered with a 24-page antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search-engine giant of a litany of monopolistic abuses. But what really caught Google’s attention was the Internet site’s legal counsel: It was (Cadwalader’s) Charles “Rick” Rule, long the chief outside counsel on competition issues for Google archrival Microsoft Corp." Google faces further scrutiny in Europe where it leads with near 90% of the search market, "While it has always maintained that advertising prices are set by auction, leaving it without any direct influence over pricing, it has faced complaints from a number of companies over its practice of setting minimum bid levels."

Caldwell asks, "Is Google now a monopoly?"
Google has cast attempts to regulate it as assaults on fundamental freedoms. Its search engineer Amit Singhal asked on the company’s blog this week “whether regulators should look into dictating how search engines like Google conduct their ranking” and discussed the unfolding debate over “government-regulated search”. Terms like “dictating” and “government-regulated” reflect a certain US provinciality, a deafness to measures of corporate responsibility other than libertarianism.
posted by geoff. (37 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Microsoft as plaintiff in an anti-trust suit. Where's my flying car?
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Seeking $335,000 in unpaid advertising bills, Google Inc. filed suit against a small Internet site in Ohio in October. The complaint was so routine it was just two sentences long. Last month, the small Internet site countered with a 24-page antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search-engine giant of a litany of monopolistic abuses

Let's be clear here, the length of the complaints mean nothing. We use notice pleading these days.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:36 AM on March 1, 2010


It's kind of rich for MSFT to be getting behind this, giving how it interferes with governments around the world that try to move to open document formats, and away from Microsoft's monopoly over proprietary document formats.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:39 AM on March 1, 2010


The real issue is this: Assume Google is found to be in violation of anti-trust statutes by sheer force of competition (or anything else for that matter). What is your remedy? When they were talking about Microsoft, they were going to set up three companies, each of which would start developing the Windows operating system independently and sell independently.

But when you are talking about a search engine, how do you break it up? Seriously, there's nothing to stop consumers from continuing to use the same search engine. It isn't like Standard Oil, where you can break it up geographically.

I don't see a remedy here, the Internet makes it impossible.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2010


The pot can call the kettle black. But when the pot has legal counsel, the court will not question the pot's color.
posted by ardgedee at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2010


There's not a lot of background on the case at hand, but as presented the thought process confuses me:

1. Hire Google to put a huge number of ads on the internet
2. Get huge bill
3. Sue Google for being an unfair advertising monopoly

Isn't that a little backwards? It almost looks like they bought way more advertising than they can afford, and now don't want to pay, and Microsoft was happy to provide a big-name lawyer to "assist" them.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


But when you are talking about a search engine, how do you break it up?

text/image/video/news/maps/products/mail/spreadsheets?
posted by DU at 9:42 AM on March 1, 2010


So their response to being asked to pay for the bills they racked up is to file an antitrust suit? Goddamn that's classy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:42 AM on March 1, 2010


Oh, I forgot:

4. ???
5. Profit!

What? So sue me.

posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:42 AM on March 1, 2010



What Ironmouth said.

IM (limited) E, when you see a fatty complaint come in that's 15 pages long, where most complaints with similar subject matter are around 3 pages long, it's often a sign that opposing's a partial or complete moonbat. (This isn't true 100% of time, mind you-- but there's enough of a correlation between verbosity and insanity that you've always got to worry a little.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:46 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: there's enough of a correlation between verbosity and insanity that you've always got to worry a little
posted by DU at 9:47 AM on March 1, 2010 [22 favorites]


But when you are talking about a search engine, how do you break it up?

Google isn't a search company, it's an advertising company that happens to have a great search engine.
posted by mpbx at 9:48 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


But when you are talking about a search engine, how do you break it up?

The issue, I believe, is the minimum bid price, which is apparently set by a number of factors and they don't disclose completely how the minimum bid price is calculated. I'm guessing the secrecy keeps SEO spammy ads from showing up all over the place, but Microsoft does have somewhat of a legitimate complaint that such practices could be used in a way that violates antitrust laws.

Google's been a lot more forthcoming in how it all works though I think anyone with an actual interest into how they do search would be better advised to look at Google's improvements to SQLite's Full Text Search.
posted by geoff. at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2010


So, um, Google just got Rick Ruled?
posted by azpenguin at 10:04 AM on March 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


But Google's a benevolent conglomerate! The rules don't apply to them, as they know what's best for all of us!
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2010


This certainly has nothing to do with the $300M that Microsoft loses in its online division (Bing, MSN, etc) every quarter.
posted by GuyZero at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2010


Google isn't a search company, it's an advertising company that happens to have a great search engine.

They are an advertising company, but the relationship with search is hardly happenstance. They figured out that search is a fantastic context for advertising, that it's a near-ideal tool for targeting advertising, and that great search massively improves those propositions. They probably arrived at those conclusions as a consequence finding themselves with great search, but if not, either way, search is pretty central.
posted by weston at 10:18 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for that link on "notice pleading" Ironmounth.
posted by Hicksu at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2010


If the FT pops up with Registration Required, if you change the false in the link to true, delete &_i_referer and everything after it, you can bypass registration. I garnered this info from Bugmenot, and it's always worked for me.
posted by djgh at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's worth pointing out that Microsoft is denying they have anything to do with this, and the "proof" is pretty shaky.
posted by smackfu at 11:03 AM on March 1, 2010


The internet-in-general has long resisted most regulation and the notion of a regulator. Google has passively taken on some of that role. And Micro-soft is pissed that it wasn't them who managed to do so.

This is just another chapter in the MS battle with Google in an attempt for long term dominance. As big as MS is now I sometimes wonder if it has reached it's peak and is facing a long (or abrupt) decline.

And yeah, MS being involved on the other side of a monopoly case is pretty damn funny.
posted by edgeways at 11:17 AM on March 1, 2010


If the FT pops up with Registration Required, if you change the false in the link to true, delete &_i_referer and everything after it, you can bypass registration. I garnered this info from Bugmenot, and it's always worked for me.

I hope you're not Australian, because that's hacking over there!

Back on topic. Is it possible they just happened to hire the lawyer that has experience with law as pertains to the internet and competitive practice, rather than MS using these people to fight a proxy war? It does look somewhat fishy, though.
posted by Talanvor at 11:22 AM on March 1, 2010


The real issue is this: Assume Google is found to be in violation of anti-trust statutes by sheer force of competition (or anything else for that matter). What is your remedy?
...
I don't see a remedy here, the Internet makes it impossible.
The monopoly is in Advertising, not search. You could force Google to operate as a kind of 'common carrier' for other advertising targeting companies. For example, after the anti-trust suit Microsoft had to put in a thing that let you easily switch your default browser. The government could mandate such a switch for websites, as well as advertising buyers be added to Google's services. It wouldn't even be that difficult.

As far as search, that's even easier. Just break Google up into X companies, and automatically redirect people to a new provider the first time they hit the page. Most users are too lazy to even bother changing their defaults. Obviously you could set something up to let people manually set a provider if they want.

The fact that it's all on the internet actually makes it easier, not more difficult to partition them.
I think anyone with an actual interest into how they do search would be better advised to look at Google's improvements to SQLite's Full Text Search.
Uh no. Not even close. Probably not even the same guys working on it. There's a huge difference between what google does with search queries and what happens in small databases that fit on 'ordinary' computers. Google has the top machine learning people in the world. At least those who specialize in search, plus probably lots of the other ones too.

Also, doing a full text search in database is hugely different then searching the web. For one thing, it's easy to find stuff the difficult aspect is ranking the results. Given the number of spammers and other B.S out there today, ranking is a huge challenge. That's what made the original pagerank algorithm so good, but of course spammers figured that out and so google undoubtedly has all kinds of crazy stuff in their current ranking algorithms. Plus, tons and tons of natural language analysis that goes into making search work well on the web as it is, with material on all kinds of content.

You might be able to do a kind of psudo-page rank using a Kernel on an a word frequency vector for each document. I'm not sure if that would actually be very helpful.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just break Google up into X companies, and automatically redirect people to a new provider the first time they hit the page.

Except that would hardly benefit end users very much; none of those splinter companies would be able to bring the resources to bear on the Very Hard Problem that is search, so the product wouldn't be as good. So now you've effectively broken search -- or handed it over to the 799 lb gorilla in the room, named Microsoft, hardly a win for consumers -- in order to bring down web-ad prices?

Sorry, but that doesn't seem like an improvement; it's so deep into baby-with-bathwater territory that there's no question in my mind that the status quo is preferable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:36 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have limited experience with Adwords but what we did was make prepayments and when the money was used up (that we had already paid) the service stopped for us. Thus, we had no problems with outstanding bills.
posted by juiceCake at 11:48 AM on March 1, 2010


You could force Google to operate as a kind of 'common carrier' for other advertising targeting companies.

To a degree, you can do this with Chrome (example).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on March 1, 2010


Except that would hardly benefit end users very much;

Well, I guess the theory is that the tech benefits of one giant search provider are outweighed by the social disadvantages of one giant search provider: breaking it up would therefore be a net social benefit. The arguments over the actual comparative weight of each side are beyond me, though :)
posted by jacalata at 11:57 AM on March 1, 2010


The issue, I believe, is the minimum bid price, which is apparently set by a number of factors and they don't disclose completely how the minimum bid price is calculated. I'm guessing the secrecy keeps SEO spammy ads from showing up all over the place, but Microsoft does have somewhat of a legitimate complaint that such practices could be used in a way that violates antitrust laws.

They obviously don't disclose the full algorithm, but I've spoiken to our account reps about this in the past. The minimum bid prices are a lot like the $5 fee for an account at Metafilter. They keep the riff-raff out by providing a barrier to entry.

Keywords with a less-than-legitimate history, like "online casino", have very high minimum bids. This makes sure that the people bidding on them are serious about their business. Effectively, it prices out scammy/spammy advertisers who are looking to make a quick buck and forces a more mature market.

Over time (in any industry) as your quality score increases and you demonstrate that you're willing to play by the rules and thrive, your minimum bids go down.

Though I'm biased (I'm a PPC account manager) it's actually a pretty slick system.
posted by generichuman at 12:04 PM on March 1, 2010


Except that would hardly benefit end users very much; none of those splinter companies would be able to bring the resources to bear on the Very Hard Problem that is search, so the product wouldn't be as good.

Well, you're essentially arguing that the only way to have a good search engine is to have a monopoly. I also don't think three companies each 1/3rd the size of Google would have that much trouble, actually. The problem isn't that hard. I mean Larry and Sergey wrote the original page rank system as two CS grad students. Things on the web are more complicated now, but each of the three companies would be starting with the same base.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 PM on March 1, 2010


It's worth pointing out that Microsoft is denying they have anything to do with this, and the "proof" is pretty shaky.

Sure. And it's a total, gigantic coincidence that two small internet firms somehow hire the same lawyers for antitrust suits against Google around the same time, and those lawyers just happened to be Microsoft's own counsel on competition issues, and somehow all of this is occuring at the same time as the European Commission receives a complaint from Microsoft about antitrust issues.

Just one giant coincidence, obviously, right? Nothing strange or fortuitous here, no sir.
posted by splice at 1:30 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, you're essentially arguing that the only way to have a good search engine is to have a monopoly.

Well, actually Microsoft is framing it this way too. From this page, Dave Heiner (VP and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft) states it clearly:
“Google’s algorithms learn less common search terms better than others because many more people are conducting searches on these terms on Google. These and other network effects make it hard for competing search engines to catch up. Microsoft’s well-received Bing search engine is addressing this challenge by offering innovations in areas that are less dependent on volume. But Bing needs to gain volume too, in order to increase the relevance of search results for less common search terms.”
In other words, Google is too popular, and it's not fair, and users should use Bing more so Bing is better. Bit of a joke, really.
posted by splice at 1:34 PM on March 1, 2010


If you're going to sue Google, it's rather brilliant (and not moonbatty) to hire a lawyer who'd worked for Microsoft. And Microsoft would have nothing to say about it, except maybe "it'll make us look bad; if you work for him you can't work for us anymore", which they obviously didn't.

Google isn't a search company, it's an advertising company that happens to have a great search engine.

Actually, it's an advertising company that happens to have the world's greatest database of information provided free by other people. And a primary channel for serving its ads in a search engine attached to the database. Makes it an easy first choice for doing search, but when it doesn't provide useful results (which is happening to me more frequently lately), other search engines sometimes do (Microsoft's Bing is becoming a solid second choice, frighteningly).

It's almost impossible to be on the web these days without some relationship with Google, which is like not being able to eat without consuming something from XX Agribusiness Corporation (which is not that far from reality). And there's value in competition but also costs in redundancy vs. economies of scale... So Google's not a 'monopoly' in any way, shape or form, but still one more way modern life is kinda creepy and less than free.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:42 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just break Google up into X companies, and automatically redirect people to a new provider the first time they hit the page.

Time was when the US government regulated the monopolistic telephone empire known as The Bell System. They broke it up in the spirit of deregulation, and their job as regulators got more complicated and the Baby Bells have been merging and reassembling ever since, with phone rates rising higher than inflation since the breakup. Lesson in there somewhere.
posted by Brian B. at 6:13 PM on March 1, 2010


“Google’s algorithms learn less common search terms better than others because many more people are conducting searches on these terms on Google. These and other network effects make it hard for competing search engines to catch up. Microsoft’s well-received Bing search engine is addressing this challenge by offering innovations in areas that are less dependent on volume. But Bing needs to gain volume too, in order to increase the relevance of search results for less common search terms.”

A year ago, when the Microsoft/Yahoo deal was first announced, some Google exec addressed this very issue. He pointed out that once you have enough data, there is very little value in having more data. He strongly implied that Google only sampled search logs, and that smaller competitors like Google & Microsoft should have enough search log data to do the same analysis as Google by using all their data, rather than just, say 1/10th as Google did.

Time was when the US government regulated the monopolistic telephone empire known as The Bell System. They broke it up in the spirit of deregulation, and their job as regulators got more complicated and the Baby Bells have been merging and reassembling ever since, with phone rates rising higher than inflation since the breakup. Lesson in there somewhere.

They didn't break it up in the spirit of deregulation. They broke it up in the spirit of anti-trust. Deregulation was a separate, and some might say opposing impulse.

As for the assertion that phone rates have been rising faster than inflation since the breakup, I call bullshit. Maybe its true for local service, but in case you haven't been paying attention, long-distances is almost free. Actually, it is free with most mobile phone plans, and land line customers can get flat rate long distance for a low price. When I was a kid, my mother would only make long distance calls on weekends, now I can get unlimited long distance calling from my local telco for $20/month or something. Also, if local rates have been rising faster since the breakup, its probably partly because they are no longer subsidized by long-distance rates.

As to the value of industry regulation, I very much doubt that Metafilter, or the rest of the commercial, public Internet, would exist without it. Google (or Bing) "Carterphone" if you want to know more.
posted by Good Brain at 9:18 PM on March 1, 2010


As for the assertion that phone rates have been rising faster than inflation since the breakup, I call bullshit. Maybe its true for local service, but in case you haven't been paying attention, long-distances is almost free. Actually, it is free with most mobile phone plans, and land line customers can get flat rate long distance for a low price. When I was a kid, my mother would only make long distance calls on weekends, now I can get unlimited long distance calling from my local telco for $20/month or something. Also, if local rates have been rising faster since the breakup, its probably partly because they are no longer subsidized by long-distance rates.

Yeah, it says all that in the article I linked. As for the anti-trust spirit, It's virtually the same as deregulating a monopoly that was previously regulated and forced to share it's own landlines, and prevented from engaging in many industries.
posted by Brian B. at 9:39 PM on March 1, 2010


Airline deregulation act, relevant under the circumstances.
posted by Brian B. at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2010


In other words, Google is too popular, and it's not fair, and users should use Bing more so Bing is better. Bit of a joke, really.
I wouldn't really call it a joke, it's a real problem with anyone wanting to compete with Google, although I would imagine Bing gets enough traffic to build pretty decent models. The problem isn't really raw search terms, there's always the AOL search data to get you started. But google gets a ton of useful web metrics from the ads they have plastered everywhere plus google analytics. So google will be able to much more easily tell if a site is a spam site based on real data about users who hit the page (do they stay, or leave right away).

It certainly gives google a structural advantage over competitors but Kadin2048 seemed to be saying that without being a monopoly (or near monopoly), a search engine wouldn't be very good, which is obviously hugely problematic. I doubt it's true, but if it is then the government should figure out a way to mitigate the problem.
posted by delmoi at 2:09 AM on March 2, 2010


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