In the infancy of Google, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cursed Microsoft as a technology bully who ruthlessly exploited its dominance in the personal computer software market to stifle competition that could produce better products.
Their disdain for Microsoft led Google to adopt “Don’t Be Evil” as its corporate motto, which remained its moral compass during the transition from a free-running startup to a publicly traded company suddenly accountable to shareholders.
That promise is a distant memory now as Google faces an existential threat similar to Microsoft’s.
Like Microsoft 22 years ago, Google is in the crosshairs of a Department of Justice lawsuit accusing it of using the immense power of its internet search engine as a weapon that steals competition and innovation to the detriment of the billions of people who make one Stall take advantage of being thwarted by market leading services like Gmail, Chrome browser, Android smartphones, YouTube videos and digital maps.
“They are definitely not a cozy company anymore,” said Maelle Gavet, author of Trampled By Unicorns: The Big Tech Empathy Problem and How to Fix It.
How Google grew from its idealistic roots to the cutthroat giant portrayed by antitrust authorities is a story marked by unbridled ambitions, smart choices, the network effects of technology, lax oversight of regulations, and the relentless pressures that all publicly traded companies place on are exposed to continuously increasing their profits.
Google “acted like a teenager for a long time, but now they’re all adults. They became a company, “said Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It.
While recognizing the growing clout it has gained from the popularity of its mostly free services, Google says it remains true to its basic principles of organizing the world’s information. The Mountain View, Calif. Company also denies any wrongdoing and intends to tackle the Justice Department’s lawsuit filed Tuesday, along with Microsoft.
Like other pioneering Silicon Valley companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, Google started out in a garage that Page and Brin rented from Susan Wojcicki, who now runs YouTube for the company. They focused on building a database of everything on the internet through a search engine that almost instantly listed a hacking order of websites that most likely have what someone wanted.
Unlike other major search engines offered by Yahoo, AltaVista, and others, Google initially only showed 10 blue links on each results page without luring visitors to stay on their own website.
“We want you to come to Google and find what you want quickly. Then we will be happy to send you to the other pages. That’s what it’s all about, “Page told Playboy magazine shortly before the company went public in 2004.
Google was so proficient at it that its name soon became synonymous with search. But when Google found out it could sell ads tied to search results, it started making more money than Page and Brin had ever imagined. When they saw the opportunity to explore new possibilities and push technology to new limits, they decided to spend billions of dollars on research and acquisitions.
The expansion began around the same time Google went public, with digital maps that made it easier and faster to get directions, and Gmail, which at the time offered a staggering 1 gigabyte of free space while others only offered four to 25 megabytes . Later came the Chrome web browser, which Google touted as a leaner alternative to the Explorer browser that Microsoft once bundled with its Windows operating system. This approach was aimed at the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the software marker.
Google went on a shopping spree with more than 260 acquisitions. In addition to Page and Brin’s vision, many of the deals were based on trend insights gained from a search engine that was constantly crawling the internet, processing billions of queries every day.
Three of the deals became pillars of Google’s empire, the under-noticed purchase of a mobile operating system called Android in 2005 for $ 50 million (approximately Rs 368 billion), the acquisition of YouTube in 2006 for $ 1.76 billion (approximately Rs 12,980) and the acquisition of the DoubleClick ad placement service in 2008 for $ 3.2 billion (approximately Rs 23,591 billion). Regulators quickly approved the Android and YouTube offerings while waiting a year before signing off the DoubleClick purchase.
Neither of them should have happened, Gavet said, if regulators had a better understanding of how technology works.
“These tech companies were allowed to operate in a vacuum because regulators didn’t fully understand why they were adding other companies,” she said.
When Google began building its service suite, it took a page from the Microsoft playbook that its then CEO Eric Schmidt had studied in the 1990s as a rival manager at Sun Microsystems and Novell. The company used its dominance in online search to advertise and bundle other products, just as Microsoft used its Windows operating system to expand the reach of its suite of Office software and Explorer web browsers.
Google’s promotion of Chrome on its search engine helped the browser oust Explorer as the market leader. Chrome also received a boost from Google’s requirement that the browser be integrated on billions of smartphones based on its free Android software. Other Google-owned apps like Maps and YouTube were also bundled with the spread of Android.
As Chrome became the most widely used browser in the world, it drove even more traffic to the Google search engine and other products, and gathered valuable insights into which websites visitors were visiting to sell even more ads. Google has also leveraged money from an advertising network that relies heavily on the tools DoubleClick acquired to negotiate lucrative deals and become the default search engine on the iPhone and another popular browser, Firefox.
Aside from pooling, Google’s search approach gradually changed more than a decade ago as it faced potential threats from other websites focusing on lucrative niches in e-commerce, travel, food, and entertainment. Google increasingly began to place its own services at the top of search results. This valuable position diverted traffic away from other websites that believed they had better information and products. In some cases, Google has even scraped off reviews from sites like Yelp and highlighted them on its own results page instead of sending other people to other places as Page once promised.
Google has stopped posting Yelp content after repeated complaints, but Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and other reviewers have complained for the past decade that their search engine converted from an online hub to a walled garden a long time ago was made to maximize profits.
Although Page and Brin had promised never to focus on short-term gains, Google eventually hired a respected Wall Street veteran, Ruth Porat, as its chief financial officer. Google started cutting its spending and even set up a new holding company, Alphabet, to monitor some of its unprofitable projects like internet = glowing balloons and self-driving cars.
“You’re hiring someone like Ruth because you want someone who can talk to Wall Street,” Gavet said. “Like it or not, once you become a public company, your stock price will have an impact.”
Before the pandemic, Google had never seen a year-over-year decline in quarterly revenue. That exceptional achievement helped propel a stock that serves as a key component of rewarding the 1.27,000+ Google and Alphabet employees. Google’s moneymaking machine increased its annual sales from $ 1.5 billion in 2003 to $ 161 billion last year while increasing its market value increased from $ 25 billion (approximately Rs. 1.84,383 billion) to more than $ 1 trillion (approximately Rs. 73,71,750 crores).
“When you become a public company, growth is one of the methods you use to gauge success,” said Auletta.
The daunting question that now has to be answered by the US judiciary is whether Google has gotten too successful for the good of technology and a free market.
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