Media Institute: Google Is Monopoly FTC Should Rein In

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The Media Institute has told the Federal Trade Commission that the
government needs to step in to remedy the "threat" to competitors in the
digital space posed by Google's unrivaled dominance in the search and
advertising marketplace.

That came in a White Paper submitted by the institute as the FTC vets Google's search and ad businesses.

The
Institute is an independent First Amendment think tank supported by
major media companies and more frequently associated with arguing
against government entry into the media space.

It points out in
the paper that all those media need to compete in a digital space where
Google is its major competitor for advertising. "Google dominates the
online advertising market...by skimming away the earnings of media
companies as it scrapes up their content," says the paper, "denying them
of the scale that would be required for effective competition with the
gatekeeper to the Internet."

Despite being able to turn the
search spigot on and off at will, says the paper, giving content
creators little choice but to participate or face a low search ranking
that could mean "invisibility," Google faces no government check on that
power. "[U]nlike many of its competitors -- which Washington agencies
like the FCC monitor and which comply with important rules regulating
their behavior -- Google faces no similar regulation in building
valuable media-­related properties out of its competitors' content."

The
paper takes issue with Google's prioritizing of search for Google News,
redirecting readers from original sources to Google's aggregated home
page. To do that, it says, Google's main page "biases Google News
results over results of news organizations and other publishers."

While Google is arguing that it optimizes search and that sites can tweak or update content more often to make it more relevant.

But
the paper suggests that is easier said than done. "[T]here is simply no
way for a media outlet to know whether a poor ranking or misdirected
traffic flow is the product of its own failings or Google's mischief.
Google has the tools to alter its search rankings, whether it uses a
hatchet to cut off a publication manually or a paring knife to shape its
algorithm to its benefit. For this reason, rivals have no ability to
compete and rise above Google News in a search result -- Google News
will almost always win."

The institute says that needs to change, calling it a dilemma Google's competitors should not have to face.

"Despite
its stated values to the contrary, Google has shown a willingness to
exercise its monopoly power to the detriment of media companies,
publishers, and journalists." To prevent foreclosure of competition,
says the paper, the FTC should "take action to prevent this result,"
though the paper does not suggest a remedy.

Media Institute President Patrick Maines agreed calling for the FTC action was unusual.

"The
institute from the beginning has had three guiding goals," he said, "a
strong First Amendment, journalistic excellence and sound communications
policy. We're not arguing that this is a First Amendment issue. But it
seems to us that, as the paper demonstrates, we've reached a time where
this one company is now posing a great threat to the whole of the media
economy, so we thought we would speak about that."

At press time,
Google had not returned an e-mail request for comment -- its preferred
mode of communications -- but in June when it revealed on its blog that
the FTC was investigating, it defended its service. "We make hundreds of
changes to our algorithms every year to improve your search
experience," it said. "Not every website can come out at the top of the
page, or even appear on the first page of our search results. Today,
when you type 'weather in Chicago' or 'how many feet in a mile' into our
search box, you get the answers directly -- often before you hit
'enter.' And we're always trying to figure out new ways to answer even
more complicated questions just as clearly and quickly. Advertisements
offer useful information, too, which is why we also work hard to ensure
that our ads are relevant to you." It added that it is always clear
"what is an ad and what isn't."

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