A month or so ago, Google started to integrate corporate Google+ results into its SERPs or search engine results pages. On the one hand this isn’t such a surprising move as a few days after my Google+ personal page went live it showed up in a Google alert for my name.
The potential challenge here is with this new search result behavior Google may be using its near-monopoly in search to take over another market – namely social networking. While the majority commenters on this post seem to think Google is within its rights, the DoJ may have other thoughts on the matter.
One comment worth sharing was from Witlake:
This doesn’t warrant anti-trust attention at this point. Pulling in content from a page? That’s standard behavior. Listing a social profile? That’s also standard behavior.
Search for Pepsi: you will see multiple corporate and marketing pages plus their Twitter profile and Facebook page on the first page of results, and content from their profiles is included in the listing (although Pepsi hasn’t optimized this as well as some other marketers).
Connecting the G+ brand page result to the corporate profile is definitely a change, but it is a change in the right direction. Consolidating a company’s corporate presence is good for users and makes it clear what accounts are ‘official’.
Hopefully Google will extend this behavior to social pages on other networks as it becomes possible (it requires a confirmation of what account is owned by what company, something Twitter and Facebook haven’t historically done).To learn more about this issue it may be useful to read up on the concept of tying as it relates to antitrust law. The general concept is that a company with a monopoly or near-monopoly position in one field uses its influence to push its products in an unrelated space. Requiring a book seller for example to purchase unpopular books in order to get access to a popular books is an example of this behavior.
This is the antitrust argument the US government brought against Microsoft when it complained that Microsoft bundled software such as Internet Explorer and other titles into the operating system at the detriment of the competition. Moreover the argument was made that Microsoft intentionally made it difficult for competitors products to work correctly with the operating systems from Redmond.
Microsoft argued that the term operating system was evolving like the word car meaning that at one time cars didn't include speedometers, air bags, etc but now they do. And if you follow the logic, the OS should be allowed to grow to include all sorts of other software.
Applied to Google, this gets tricky. Companies aren't being forced to use G+ but then again Google exerts tremendous influence on the web and especially in the world of search. By integrating Google+ into search results are they just providing superior service to customers or are they preying on customers by forcing them to use an inferior social network? And by coercing companies to use the service are they forcing these companies to take limited resources from Twitter and Facebook? Moreover, is this move just the evolution of search or anticompetitive behavior designed to take Facebook and Twitter out?
Now if Facebook and/or Twitter make access to their networks difficult or charge fees which Google can argue are too high then is Google absolved of any wrongdoing? After all, if they don't have access to Twitter or Facebook real-time data - shouldn't they have the ability to come up with a product which competes and promote it as they desire?
These are among many of the items that come to mind so far... Expect there to be more questions about these matters from the government and the general media as the new year rolls around.
Whether this behavior will be deemed anticompetitive and cause the government to step in on antitrust grounds remains to be seen but it is obvious the incentives to use G+ are now too great for most companies to ignore.