- - Wednesday, December 16, 2020

If you’re running a small business you had a big problem Monday. Google — and many of its related services — briefly went down. So what does that mean?

It means that your ads weren’t being seen. Your collaboration apps were useless. You couldn’t access files. Your smartphone wasn’t downloading data. You couldn’t even send an email. You were dead in the water. This is not just a technical glitch. This is a failure that lays bare the fact that your business is dependent on Google. And unfortunately, you’ve got no choice. 

Recently, the federal government and a number of states went after Facebook with a lawsuit that accused the social media giant of uncompetitive practices. That may or may not be true. But should Facebook be the priority? No. The priority of the Justice Department should be Google. The company was sued by the Justice Department and 11 states too back in October. Good. This outage incident should remind us all — and particularly small business owners — that you can’t get any more uncompetitive than Google. Why? Just look at the numbers.

According to industry reports like this one, Google controls more than 88% of all searches done online — 88%! Its android operating system, which is continually uploading and downloading God-knows-what kind of data to God-knows-what end, controls 85% of smartphones worldwide.

Almost 74% of the world’s videos stream through YouTube. Gmail has about a third of the world’s email market. Chrome, the company’s browser, is used on more than 70% of the world’s desktops. And although Microsoft owns nearly 90% of the office suite market, Google’s G Suite (now called Google Workspace) has more than 2 billion active monthly users.

“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” a Google spokeswoman said in a recent Wall Street Journal report. 

Really? I’m not so sure that’s the case, Ms. Spokeswoman. If we want to use our phones, browse, promote our businesses with videos, store documents and send emails we have few other choices than Google. But most importantly is search. If a small business like mine wants to be found online we have to rely on the dark magic that underlies Google’s search algorithms. The largest companies in the world spend billions trying to figure out Google’s methods. So what does that mean for a small business owner? 

“Google has all the power when it comes to search engine optimization and small businesses,” Sarah Bird, the CEO of search services firm Moz told me last year. “They set the terms of engagement and they are the only search game in town that matters. But they also provide all the benefit; Google search is the most powerful customer acquisition channel ever experienced by mankind. So, it’s complicated.”

It’s not that complicated. Google is a monopoly, and its power over small businesses becomes even more apparent when the company’s core services become unavailable. “When you own the most popular browser and you also own the most popular search engine and YouTube and Gmail and G-Suite there are just so many easy ways that you can do things that really aren’t in the best interest of the customer,” said Wil Reynolds, the founder of search firm Seer Interactive.

Think about how hard it is for small businesses to succeed at search on Google. It’s a bidding war. All the keywords are taken by others and if you want people to find your company online you’ve got to bid for the privilege. Obviously, the companies with the most resources win. That’s why the products and services sold by big corporations wind up on the first page of search results and the rest of us are relegated to pages far back in the queue.

And despite Ms. Spokeswoman’s claims, there’s no other place to go. Google has, in the past, been accused of favoring the corporate clients that spend big on their platform at the expense of small businesses. They deny these claims. I don’t believe them.

What’s also amazing is how we trust Google with our money. We pay based on “clicks” and “impressions.” Who provides these numbers? Why Google, of course. So in other words we’re being charged for our usage of a service and we have no idea how that usage is calculated, if it’s accurate or if it’s potentially fraudulent.

Google is a publicly-held company run by executives under pressure to meet earnings forecasts. So what if those forecasts are a little behind? Why, let’s just add a few more clicks and impression, shall we? Who’s going to know? Not me. And definitely not any small business owner. Maybe it’s better to bet our money in Vegas. The odds are definitely more favorable.

So what’s the answer? Clearly a breakup. Like Standard Oil, American Tobacco and Bell Telephone Google has too much power in its hands.

Breaking it up into separate companies levels the playing field. It gives small businesses more choice for their advertising dollars and it makes us less reliant on Google’s other apps and services. 

So Google goes down and the world literally stops. What else do we need to agree that this company is a monopoly?

• Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm that specializes in small- and medium-sized companies.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide