Google & antitrust

Yesterday, on the 20th October, the US Department of Justice, joined by 11 US states, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google.

The lawsuit, submitted in federal court in Washington DS, accuses Google  of attempting to monoplize the marker for search-generated advertising, using contracts –  such as the agreement with Apple to put its search app on iPhones –  desgined to freeze out competitors.

Google has already faced similar challenges elsewhere. In 2019, for example, the Europeam Union fined the company US $ 1.7 billion  for stopping websites from using  search results provided by its rivals.

In these, and similar cases, Google can be said to be following simple business logic: its advertising revenue depends on eyeballs, and so it does whatever it can to increase the number of people using its services and looking at the advertisements served alongside them.

Google’s ‘Classroom’ product follow a similar logic. It’s a free web service, which integrates other Google services (such as Docs, Slides, Sheets, Gmail and Calendar), and aims to simplify the process of creating, distributing, completing, and grading assignments. Usage of Classroom has grown quickly as a result of the current pandemic, reaching 100 million or so by April.

Like Google Search, Classroom has strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, it’s free and so gives learning providers and learners functionality that they might not have otherwise have been able to afford. But, on the other, the products are designed not just as aids to education, but also as a means to introduce new users to Google’s services and tie them in as eyeballs for advertising in the following years.

The long-term consequence may well be impairments to competition and innovation in the  fields which Classrooms  touches, particulaly the provision of (i)  Learning Management Systems by specialists in that field; and (ii) new infrastructure for user authentication and user control of data, such as that proposed by UCDx.  Whether Google Classroom will ever attract the attention of the competition regulators remain an open question.