When people talk about the antitrust lawsuits against Google, they often talk about how the scrutiny on the tech giant has been coming for a long time. And we’re now seeing exactly how long the U.S. government has been thinking about this.
Newly released documents, obtained by Politico, reveal the Feds thought about making these same moves during an investigation that began around 2011. They missed the boat on an antitrust suit by making wildly wrong predictions.
The Feds saw the potential for concentrated Google power: They were investigating similar things the government is now, specifically Google wielding influence to secure favored positions for search and then using that dominance to promote its favored search results.
But in 2011 this didn’t seem like a huge deal: The leaked memos show the U.S. government didn’t think mobile would take off. It believed internet users would mainly search on desktop browsers rather than on the smartphones and tablets where almost every search is conducted via Google. The government also thought Microsoft and other tech companies would create a smartphone operating system to compete with Google and Apple.
Would anything be different if the U.S. acted back then?
Perhaps another tech company would have launched a mobile operating system. It’s possible Google would have stopped putting as much of its imprint on search results and influencing companies who relied on those results.
The same conflict hanging over today’s antitrust cases was raging back then. Investigators knew they would have a tough time proving any of Google’s advantages were harmful to consumers.