By GIANNA SMERAGLIA
On Dec. 21, 2017, it was announced that the executive chairman of Alphabet, Eric Schmidt, would resign from his position. Schmidt started off as the CEO of Google in 2001, continuing with the company for ten years until Google formed Alphabet, the current parent company of Google, where he took his position in 2015. While Schmidt is not necessarily a household name like his counterparts Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Schmidt held a great deal of power through his position at Alphabet which deeply effects it’s everyday consumers and even has even gone so far as to challenge the idea of democracy as we know it.
On June 27, 2017, the European Union (after seven years of investigation into the Google and its use of their algorithms) voted to fine Google €2.4 billion for controlling search results. Barry Lynn, a senior fellow at New America Foundation (NAF) and an overseer of a department called Open Markets, commented on behalf of the department on these events saying, “By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, [the E.U.] is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend.”
Lynn then reportedly received an email from NAF’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, “that the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways” despite saying that this had nothing to do with Lynn’s and his team’s actions while also stating that Open Markets did “imperil the institution as a whole.” It is important to note that Eric Schmidt, who has funded over $21 million since the foundation’s beginning in 1999, supposedly voiced his displeasure with the statement to Slaughter before she sent Lynn the email.
Countering these reports, Google made a statement to the New York Times that “We don’t agree with every group 100 percent of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personal decisions and policy perspectives.” Backing up Google’s claims, Slaughter also later tweeted that “the story is false… We are proud of Open Markets’ work.”
Despite these statements, Lynn and his team were still out of jobs and have now started the nonprofit group Citizens Against Monopoly, with the mission statement that they aim to protect democracy and liberty from corporate monopolies—specifically pointing at how when they pointed out Google’s monopoly practices, they no longer had jobs.
While the European Union decided to fine Google for its wrongful activities, the United States has not decided to apply the American monopoly law which would “require separate ownership of products and services and the networks that sell products and services.” It is interesting to see that United States would not take some type of action against Google as it is likely that the company is manipulating data here like they did in Europe.
It is important to note is that Alphabet (then run by Schmidt), is the United States’ number one lobbyer, investing approximately $11.85 million into the United States government. Government lobbying allows companies, including Google, can influence decisions made by the government through “generous” donations.
According to Fordham University Communications and Media Studies professor, Brian Rose, Google’s actions are anything but surprising. “Google’s lobbying efforts are, sadly, just the cost of doing business in America,” said Rose. “It’s hard to say whether this has led to a lack of antitrust activity against the company.” To Rose’s knowledge, it’s not necessarily that Google is “getting away” with these activities, but that the Department of Justice has simply not held up Google to the same standards of anti-monopoly action as they have in the past with companies like Microsoft.
Because of these stories, the question comes to mind: how does any of this affect me? Well, think about how many Google products have been implemented into the everyday lives of Fordham students. Most professors prefer that students use Google Docs and Drive. People use the Google search bar everyday to look up anything from information for classes and work to trying to figure out what song they heard on the radio or if a celebrity is really getting married. Google has become our savior for the menial tasks of everyday life. But, they also look at every little thing that you search and use that data for their own personal economic gain.
These activities point to a misuse of power on both Google and Alphabet’s part, with Eric Schmidt at the center of the issue. Even so, it is clear that these companies are not going anywhere—with or without Schmidt at the head—showing a lack of effort on the government’s part to uphold the United States’ core values. Next time when using Google, think about the power that search bar holds.