President Obama’s class-warfare assault on successful businessmen and investors appears to have spurred members of Congress to launch an assault on Google because it has been too successful. Depressingly, however, these attacks are not limited to Democrats, but include among their ranks so-called conservative Republicans.
America is often portrayed as a place where entrepreneurs invest their hard-earned money into their ideas and, with enough perseverance and hard work, can thrive and be prosperous.
That is the dream that has made us the envy of the world. But if you become too successful, you will find yourself investigated by regulators and pestered by members of Congress looking to find a few moments of face time on television. Unfortunately, Google finds itself in that very situation now.
The situation is not all that dissimilar from what Microsoft went through in the 1990s when the software giant became a frequent target for regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and busybody lawyers at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
At the time, Microsoft was dominating the computer software industry. Nearly every computer used the Windows Operating System and the Internet Explorer browser. Bill Gates had, through years of investment and employing the brightest minds in the field, put together a product that was extraordinarily successful. Because of that success, Microsoft was deemed to be a threat.
The accusation was that Microsoft was attempting to maintain its monopoly by stifling competitors. After costly investigations, the DOJ filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft.
The suit was eventually settled out of court, but Microsoft paid a steep price, both in terms in defending itself and allowing access to its intellectual property.
The case also set a bad precedent that was sure to be repeated. In fact, Milton Friedman warned in 1999 that Silicon Valley would come to regret when they asked for intervention against Microsoft. The Nobel Prize-winning economist said, “From now on the computer industry, which has been very fortunate in that it has been relatively free of government intrusion, will experience a continuous increase in government regulation.”
Fast-forward to 2011 and we see that Friedman was correct as now the federal government has found a new boogeyman in Google, a resoundingly successful search engine founded in 1998.
Over the years, Google has developed a variety of services and branched out into many other avenues, some through innovations of its own or purchasing other companies.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, found himself last week defending his company against accusations from members of a Senate subcommittee who believe that the company has “cooked” search engine results to promote its growing list of services.
During the hearing, senators heard from competitors whining that Google was not playing fair. For example, Jeffrey Katz of Nextag, Inc. complained that “Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a self-described “constitutional conservative,” seemed to buy into the hype, pointing out to Schmidt that Google “magically” comes up every third time. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) complained that the responses from Schmidt on his company’s methods were “fuzzy.”
Just because Google is the big kid on the Internet block does not mean its success is illegal and ought to be circumscribed by the government. There are inherent dangers of congressional and federal regulators, such as the FTC or FCC, trying to manipulate Internet search engines and impose their own views of what the market should look like.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.