Google. Need I say more?
Everyone knows Google. The quintessential search engine. Why does my stomach hurt? Google it. Why am I always hungry? Google it. Why is my Law degree so hard? Just… you get the idea.
For years, Google has been the dominant search engine, holding over 90% of the international search market for almost a decade. But now, that may be changing. Google’s got some competition. But who are they? How can they compete with Google?
Read on to find out. Or… Just Google it.
(I was being facetious, please read the article…)
First and foremost, let’s talk about Google. Google is everywhere. Just shy of 4 billion people use Google’s search engine every year, and Google developed Gmail, Google Drive, Google Photos and Google Maps, all of which enjoy over a billion active users each.
Google was originally known as BackRub, although surprisingly, it wasn’t founded by a couple of masseuses. Rather, it was the brainchild of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford University computer science students, who developed an algorithm that could determine which internet pages were linked, and rank them based on linking behaviour (meaning user behaviour, such as how quickly a user clicks through the pages of a website).
A couple of years (and $25 million of investment) down the line, and Google went public, on August 19th, 2004. Google gained massive popularity quickly, overtaking Yahoo as the dominant search engine in a matter of a few years. Google launched Google Maps in 2005, acquired Youtube in 2006, and sponsored the development of Android 2008, which is now the largest mobile operating system in the world. Fast-forward to today, and Google currently holds 92% of the worldwide search engine market share, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is valued at roughly $1 trillion.
How is it that Google have become such a digital leviathan, and dominated so much of the market for so long?
Google is currently facing an antitrust parallel lawsuit, filed on the 17th December 2020, which alleges Google maintains an illegal monopoly that damages the consumer and quashes competition.
What does that actually mean?
Essentially, Google is facing multiple lawsuits at the same time, brought against them by Phil Weiser, the attorney general of Colorado. Weiser is collaborating with the attorneys general of 34 other US states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, and notably, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, who has led a similar lawsuit against Facebook.
These lawsuits contend that Google’s dominance in the search engine market is illegal, as it was attained by simply and maliciously quashing any potential competition, by ensuring its search engine was the only one available to hundreds of millions of people.
As Letitia James puts it:
“Google has used its dominance to illegally squash competitors, monitor nearly every aspect of our digital lives, and profit to the tune of billions.”
James further suggested that Google’s “unchecked corporate power” has an unreasonable degree of control over our online data and personal information.
James and the other attorney generals allege that by handling vast amounts of data, attained via their ‘monopoly’ (where one business controls an entire market) and products and services, Google has been able to orchestrate maximum control over the search engine market, essentially directing (or manipulating) more and more people towards its search engine, and limiting exposure to other alternative search engines. More people using Google means more data, which means more people using Google, and so on.
From a business perspective, it’s a really smart move. It just happens to be marginally, ever so slightly, morally questionable.
Hence the lawsuit.
This alleged perpetual cycle of preferential treatment to its own products has allowed Google to maintain a massive portion of the market for a long time… but this lawsuit could be an indicator of change.
This is the third lawsuit of this type that Google has faced in 2020.
Google could be in real trouble. It could end up with a fine, small or substantial. It could forcibly be made to sell its assets. It could suffer reputational damage. Equally, it could win the lawsuit, and suffer little to no consequence. What do you think the outcome will be? Antitrust lawsuits (or competition lawsuits as they are known outside the US) seek to promote competition in the market by limiting the dominance of corporations such as Google, which is typically attained via ‘anti-competitive’ behaviour. ‘Anti-competitive’ essentially refers to where one business operates with the intention of quashing any and all competition, which leads to an unhealthy, and to some extent stagnant market, and that is exactly the behaviour Weiser and his allegiance of states and territories are accusing Google of.
Try and imagine a future where Google’s anti-competitive behaviour is regulated more frequently and thoroughly, and its reign of digital supremacy ultimately comes to an end. What could this mean for search engine competitors? Could we see a healthy, competitive market?
Could Google finally be usurped?
Bing and Yahoo could be icons of the past, given neither has occupied more than 3% of the search engine market share for the past year, and both have continually failed to offer anything new or revolutionary that distinguishes them from Google. There are however a few search engines start-ups poised to rival Google in the foreseeable future.
Let’s meet the players…
A UK-based start-up founded in 2009, Mojeek boasts an index containing over 3 billion web pages. Mojeek provides search results composed of its own web pages, rather than relying on results from other search engines.
When you search on Mojeek, your results are based solely on the key words you type, reinstating a barrier of privacy that, as alleged by the antitrust lawsuit mentioned above, Google has stripped away and manipulated.
Founded by Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan in 2019, both senior executives at Google and Youtube, respectively, Neeva is an advert-free search engine. That’s right. No adverts. No collecting user’s data. Ironic, given that both founders headed up aspects of Google’s advertising scheme.
Neeva takes a more personal approach to searching the web: the search engine scours through both web pages and personal files like emails and other documents, and whilst it is yet to launch, Neeva have already raised $37.5 million in funding.
To quote the Neeva website, Neeva ‘believe your digital world should revolve around you — not advertisers’ … could it one day rival Google?
The search engine that no one asked for. The search engine we desperately need.
Ecosia, founded in 2009, is a search engine that uses at least 80% of its profits to fund reforestation projects around the world. Every search made on Ecosia contributes to planting trees. Ecosia uses the profit from search adverts to plant trees, particularly in disadvantaged countries.
If there was ever a search engine that has the potential to grasp the support of hundreds of millions of climate-change-aware millennials, this is it. Ecosia ticks off accountability too: it publishes monthly financial reports and tree planting receipts.
With 15 million active users and counting, Ecosia could genuinely pose a threat to Google in several years time. If you want proof, as I researched Ecosia for this article, I was swayed by Ecosia’s commitment to reforestation, and it is now my default search engine, replacing… you guessed it — Google.
So, we have met the competition.
The real question is, do any of these start-ups even have a chance at one day rivalling Google?
Google relies heavily on adverts. As you will likely have noticed, when you search pretty much anything via Google, the first thing that pops up at the top of the screen is a fusillade of adverts. It can become difficult to determine which links are genuine or useful, and which are just adverts. How can you find a reliable source of information if the first 5 links are all sponsored ads? As part of a modern, ‘woke’ culture that seems to despise ‘fake news’ and misinformation, how long can Google survive, given its current approach to information, and its blatant willingness to bombard its users with advert after advert, especially when many of the aforementioned start-ups take a new, contrasting approach to advertisements, either using them to fund reforestation, or simply eradicating them entirely? I really see the potential for Ecosia to rival Google in a few years: it already has millions of active users and possesses a commitment to the environment that Google fails to emphasise to the same degree.
Regardless, the real factor that could determine the future success or failure of the start-up search engines is outcome of the lawsuit.
If this lawsuit is successful, Google could be seriously regulated and restricted, particularly in its manipulation of its users and their data, and their dominance may well come to an end. If this lawsuit fails, do Google simply continue their ascendancy? If so… where do we draw the line? Who draws the line? Where will it stop?
So, in 5 years time, will we Google it… or Mojeek it?
It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
One thing is certain: this type of lawsuit is becoming more frequent. Google, Facebook and other major digital providers are facing increasing scrutiny and perusal, particularly in the US, and many are already being regulated in Europe via hefty fines, to varying degrees of success. Eventually, the scales will surely tip against corporate behemoths like Google. Will that set the precedent that no business can ever truly dominate a market, and ultimately eliminate the concept of monopoly? It is a difficult outcome to predict.
Maybe Google will stick around. Maybe it won’t.
In the meantime, all we can do is wait.
If you want to look into this more, I will attach some useful links at the bottom of the article.
Just kidding. Google it.
This article was written by Toby Johnston. Toby is a Content Writer for According To A Law Student and first-year Law LLB student at the University of Liverpool. Toby has aspirations to become a corporate solicitor.