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Google, Trump and the arrogance of power

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

Google's search engine runs about two-thirds of all searches in the United States and 90 percent in Europe. "Platform monopolies" like this can squelch innovation. Google could favor its own services, such as Google Maps and Google Shopping, for example.

This is one reason that the European Commission hit Google with a fine of 2.42 billion euros in June.

Why hasn't Google run into similar problems with antitrust authorities in the United States?

It almost did in 2012. The Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Competition recommended that the FTC sue Google for conduct that "has resulted -- and will result -- in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets."

But the commissioners didn't pursue the case, which is unusual when staff recommend it. They gave no explanation for this, but it may have had to do with Google's political clout.

Google is among the largest corporate lobbyists in the United States and a major campaign donor. We now know Google also has enough financial power to stifle criticism coming from independent researchers.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the New America Foundation, an influential center-left think tank, fired Barry Lynn, a sharp critic of platform monopolies. Lynn had posted a congratulatory note to European officials about their Google decision, and called for American antitrust officials to follow suit.

Since its founding in 1999, the New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google (and its parent company, Alphabet), and from the family foundation of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet who previously served as chairman of New America's board.

According to the Times, Schmidt didn't like Lynn's comments and communicated his displeasure to the president of the New America Foundation, who then accused Lynn of "imperiling the institution as a whole," and fired him and his staff.

Few powerful institutions or people like to be criticized. But it's never smart to use power to try to stop critics.

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