Setting The Record Straight: 60 Minutes’ Rehash Of Google Critics Misses The Mark
“The ’60 Minutes’ report is largely a rehash of familiar complaints against Google from longstanding opponents. As ’60 Minutes’ reminded viewers: ‘Most people love Google.’ In the U.S., successful antitrust action depends on proving harm to consumers — and that’s been challenging with Google.”
That’s from Axios’ Scott Rosenberg. Below are a few things 60 Minutes got wrong.
1. The 60 Minutes segment downplayed the seriousness of the multi-year Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation that — after examining thousands of pages of documents, deposing senior Google executives, and hiring outside expert litigators — ultimately found Google Search did not violate antitrust law. With tech critics calling the investigation superficial, the 60 Minutes segment misrepresented the breadth and intensity of the FTC investigation. The FTC spent two years looking at Google’s search practices and determined that Google’s search results didn’t violate antitrust laws. The FTC found that the evidence “does not support the allegation that Google’s display of its own vertical content at or near the top of its search results page was a product design change undertaken without a legitimate business justification,” concluding that “Google’s display of its own content could plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search product.”
2. The show promoted the myth that FTC Commissioners overruled FTC staff. In fact, the unanimous bipartisan decision was “in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.“ As noted by CCIA’s Project DisCo, “A leaked FTC memo, obtained by the Wall Street Journal in 2015, indicated that some staff in the agency’s Bureau of Competition (BC) had supported an enforcement action — but not regarding how Google showed ads and results on its Search page. On that issue, the WSJ makes clear that, like every other part of the FTC, the leaked BC memo recommended against a case. Why? BC staff doubted a case would succeed due to ‘legal hurdles and Google’s ‘strong procompetitive justifications’.’ The memo itself thus concludes ‘…we do not recommend that the Commission issue a complaint against Google for this conduct.'”
3. Tech critics were responsible for the entire narrative of the show, with no differing views aired. Consumers, who value search at $17,500 a year, were ignored. Jonathan Taplin has long championed Google competitors, and has been funded by content companies that aggressively attacked Google for years. Gary Reback has been paid to represent Google competitors and critics like Foundem, Disconnect, ShopCity, and FairSearch. By contrast, independent research reported by The Economist found that consumers would demand on average $17,500 to forego using search for a year.
4. Yelp, whose traffic has grown nearly 70 percent since the FTC closed its investigation, has continuously attacked Google for seven years, but its claims have been repeatedly debunked. Former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright has noted that Yelp’s claims of harm are based on arguments from which “no empirical economist, social scientist, statistician, or student of the scientific method would be willing to draw any such inferences – much less impose legal liability or draconian remedies.”
5. 60 Minutes overlooked that the European Commission drew a purposefully narrow market definition in its investigations. As we argued earlier, the EC’s puzzling product market definition implies that Google Shopping and e-commerce platforms were forced into different markets — a decision not based upon how consumers actually approach online shopping. CCIA’s Project Disco called it a “curious finding, given that there are thousands of merchants on online marketplaces which allow consumers to quickly compare products and prices.”