Google-opoly: A New Twist

Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Journalism, Technology | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I spent the weekend engaged in an interesting snark-fest with Jeff Jarvis in the comments section of his blog. Jarvis was complaining about the many requests he gets from journalists working on ‘anti-Google’ stories looking for a quote. It’s not surprising that he gets the requests, since he’s written a book advocating Google’s business model as a blueprint for all companies. Indeed, I reached out to Jarvis for my own Google story a few weeks ago, but he was understandably busy.

Jarvis’ accusation was that journos are fabricating news stories out of scant fact in order to exorcise our own curmudgeonly demons when it comes to living in a digital world. I’d admit that bias plays a role in the tone of coverage of Google, but since most of the queries he referenced are about ANTITRUST stories, I’m not sure bias actually drives the decision TO cover Google in the first place or that the facts behind those stories are as thin as Jarvis suggests. Those stories only arise AFTER the government somewhere decides to investigate Google; then we report on the investigation. And as far as I know, no journalist has reported on a non-existent lawsuit yet. So I’m really not sure what Jarvis was ‘kvetching about, despite trying to get some clarity from him multiple times.

To the contrary, I’m even more convinced that the regulators have a real case to make against Google than I was when I first got into my tussle with Jarvis a few days ago. I’ve just learned that Hasbro is going to Google for access to its mapping service in order to create a web-based Monopoly game based on real streets.

I’m pretty sure that in a world sans Google, Hasbro would’ve had to ask permission from individual cities (though probably not homeowners) to set up an (admittedly) awesome game like this. And if Google had done that, it would make sense for them to then have the rights to sub-sell or lease the access to others. But Google doesn’t do that–it repurposes and then monetizes data already available elsewhere, some of which its first owners–ie homeowners–aren’t happy to have Google use. It doesn’t ask a priori permission, but rather offers you the ability to opt out later. Or, in the case of books data, it just offers you a lot of money afterwards.

For any other company or industry to adopt the Google model in its field, as Hasbro has done, they need to pay for the relevant data up-front, and often pay Google. Google may not have the market power to destroy its most direct competitor (Microsoft), but it increasingly has the power to make-or-break the fates of companies in OTHER industries by deciding whom to work with or share with, and how.

Regulatory law doesn’t have a neat and clean way to deal with this, since Google isn’t running around buying those companies. But the internet may require us to rethink those laws. (One woman at the FTC has tried). In other words, Google is likely to pay the price of playing guinea pig as the legal system catches up to a new world that Google’s own success has helped unleash.

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