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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/5/17

Google, Trump, and the Arrogance of Power

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From Robert Reich Blog

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Google's search engine runs two-thirds of all searches in the United States and 90 percent in Europe.

"Platform monopolies" like this can squelch innovation. Google might favor its own services, such as Google Maps and Google Product Search, for example. This is one reason why the European Commission hit Google with a record 2.42 billion-euro fine 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 Commission sue Google for conduct that "has resulted -- and will result -- in real harm to ... innovation."

But the commissioners decided not to pursue the case, which was unusual. They didn't explain their decision, 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.

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 on 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. He then accused Lynn of "imperiling the institution as a whole," and fired him and his staff.

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

Consider Donald J. Trump. It may seem odd to mention Trump at the same time I'm talking about Google. Google's executives tend to be on the left. Eric Schmidt was a major backer of Hillary Clinton.

But power is power, and Trump has demonstrated a similar tendency to throw his ever-expanding weight around. Like Google, he doesn't particularly like to be criticized, if you hadn't noticed.

Trump also has a record of paying off politicians. During the 2016 Republican primaries, when attacked by his GOP rivals for having once donated money to Hillary Clinton, Trump explained "as a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do."

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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