Nobody can accuse Gary Reback, the acclaimed Silicon Valley antitrust lawyer, of being intrinsically anti-Google. After all, it was Reback, back in the 90s, who spearheaded the U.S. government’s efforts to sue Google’s nemesis Microsoft – an enormously consequental event for the tech industry that made it possible for start-up entrepreneurs like Larry Page and Sergey Brin to successfully take on the Redmond leviathan. But now, Reback says, Google has, in a sense, become Microsoft, not only by abusing its dominance of the market but also by crushing all opposition to its products and services. “Keep clear of Google,” Reback thus advises any startup entrepreneur with an innovative idea in search.
But Google hasn’t completely become Microsoft, Reback explains. What Google has learned from the Microsoft case, he says, is the importance of playing the political game – a game that Microsoft, at the height of its economic power, couldn’t or wouldn’t play. Thus Google has invested such vast sums in lobbying the U.S. government that, Reback argues, the FTC dropped their case against them because it was “too scared” to go after a company with many powerful friends in the Obama administration. Reback, however, urges government – both in Europe and in the U.S. – to be more resolute in their antitrust case against Google. If EU Competition Commissioner Almunia want to leave a meaningful historical legacy, Reback suggests, he should aggressively confront what he describes as Google’s “eminently provable” violations of European law. While in the US, Reback advises Edith Ramirez, the new FTC chairperson, to cede the Google antitrust case to the more powerful Justice Department.
So who really cares what happens in some complicated and seemingly never-ending legal case in faraway Brussels or Washington DC, some of you might be saying. But, as everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Ron Conway have realized, politics is critical if we are to enable genuine economic innovation. And just imagine if Gary Reback hasn’t spearheaded that antitrust case against Microsoft back in the 90s? Not only would Google probably not exist, but our thriving Silicon Valley ecosystem would be a pale imitation of what it is today. That’s why Reback may well be prescient in warning that the real loser, if Google isn’t reined in, are startup entrepreneurs, the Larry Pages and Sergey Brins of today, seeking to disrupt well-entrenched monopolies.