This week’s New Yorker features an article by Ken Auletta about Google’s growing lobbying efforts and general education in Washington politics. The article recaps much of what most regular observers already know about Google, but there are two items that caught my eye—both shoehorned in towards the end.
One is the startling fact that because of Google’s increasing interest in the mobile phone industry (it is bidding for wireless spectrum and has created Android, a new open-source, mobile operating system), CEO Eric Schmidt, who also sits on Apple’s board of directors:
. . . now recuses himself from mobile-phone discussions at Apple board meetings.
Excuse me? I guess that’s commendable. Schmidt knows he has a conflict of interest there. But what good is a board member who cannot talk about a company’s hottest product? The iPhone only represents Apple’s biggest growth opportunity. If Schmidt won’t talk about the iPhone in board meetings with Steve Jobs because he’s gunning for the same market with Android, maybe he shouldn’t be on Apple’s board at all.
The other tidbit that I found noteworthy was this quote from a “senior executive at Time Warner”:
Sometimes I don’t know what to think of Google. We have the best relationship of anyone with Google. On the other hand, you always have to worry when someone gets so much more powerful than all the competition out there. This is why I come down to this: I hope the government starts understanding this power sooner rather than later.
I’ve heard variations of this sentiment myself. There is no shortage of competitors (or potential competitors) who are scared stiff of Google and wouldn’t mind seeing Google’s power checked by the government.
You can see this in the resistance to Google’s proposed acquisition of DoubleClick (which the FTC approved, but now is awaiting the EC”s verdict). There are even grumblings of antitrust action that will no doubt become stronger if Google’s market share in search and online advertising continues to swallow everything else in sight. Concentration of power is not the same as abuse of power, but that won’t stop Google’s growing list of enemies from trying to link the two.