Way back in early Internet history, as in 1998, someone recommended to me Wendy Goldman Rohm’s book, “The Microsoft File.” It was a pretty damning indictment of Microsoft and its founder, Bill Gates, and its anti-competitive business practices.
In 1998, Google was just being founded, Microsoft was the company to beat (if it was possible), and I ordered the book via Amazon, whence it came via UPS. Nowadays, Google is considered the behemoth, Microsoft, despite all its cash, appears to be a has-been, and I get most of my books digitally to a Kindle or an iPad… and Google is being accused of the exact same practices. One of the interesting twists in the Skyhook vs. Google case is the recent unsealing of documents that purport to show – surprise, surprise – anticompetitive behaviour by Google in controlling its “open” Android mobile operating system. The scribd of the complaint is here.
In truth, much as some of MS business practices disgusted me, I continued to be a customer of theirs for many years, and they continued to grow. In reality, every business, even a dominant market leader, has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, employees and customers to protect its market by any legal method possible. That includes some pretty tough business practices. Businesses are not altruistic “donation farms”; they are profit-making entities that do good by doing well: create returns for their investors, jobs for their employees and products/services for their customers, who want them to remain and grow.
I have wondered for a long time where the borders in anti-trust and anti-competitive are. While those in DOJ and their equivalents around the world appear to “know”, I do not believe anyone really has a straight answer. Microsoft engaged in every such practice in the book (and probably invented a few), stayed way ahead of the regulators, and managed to become the most valuable firm in the world. Some seriously asked if MS should be forcibly broken up . Barely a few years later, they are a slow cash-cow business, struggling to figure out if they have a future. Some will argue that regulatory constraints enabled this turn of events, but I doubt they really had that much of an influence.
Business can get tough, and regulators are unlikely to really be able to know when tough is illegal. No one should be surprised by Google.