At the same time, many businesses overshadowed by Google have begun looking for political arguments that might slow its seemingly unstoppable ascent. “There is no company on the face of the planet that scares as many businesses as Google,” says Blair Levin, a telecom and media analyst at the financial-services firm Stifel Nicolaus. The most popular and potentially effective argument against Google is the charge that it has become a monopoly that needs reining in. (The political power of this criticism is increased by fears that Google will misuse the vast amount of personal data it has accumulated.) In late September, Congress held the first antitrust hearings concerning Google—the opening salvo in what is likely to be one of the most important business and policy stories of the next few years.
The computer world is in the midst of its next great transition, as many applications and services—word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, data storage—migrate from the personal computer to the Internet. Success for all sorts of businesses will soon depend on whether customers have easy and fast access to these Internet-based applications. Because gaining primacy will involve winning battles over regulation and federal oversight, companies like Microsoft and the major cable and telephone companies are now squaring off against Google in an arena where it has never competed and they have: Washington.
Until recently, a company’s Washington strategy tended to evolve at the same pace as its business. As the company grew larger, it would add lobbyists and advisers to protect its interests. But as Microsoft grew more powerful in the 1990s, it mostly ignored politics. It had gotten to the top of the new economy without aid or interference from Washington—why change? Microsoft assumed the government posed no threat—until its competitors persuaded the Justice Department to launch an antitrust suit. Though the company avoided a breakup, its stock price stagnated for years.
Microsoft’s example illustrates a problem that can plague any fast-growing tech company: You can control vast markets and terrify your competitors, but still be a Washington rookie. As the government focuses on Google, the city’s familiar machinery is gearing up for battle on the question of whether the company is the large but benign force for innovation its corporate slogan, “Don’t be evil,” suggests—or whether, like Stan [Google's T-rex corporate mascot], it’s a carnivore on the loose.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Google Goes to Washington
The Atlantic has a short, interesting article about Google's Washington presence: