This past week the Federal Trade Commission was asked to investigate the data collected by Google on its Android operating system, which powers most of the world's smartphones. It was a tiny blip in the news cycle but another sign of Washington's and Europe's growing concerns about the enormous, largely unchecked power accumulated by tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google over the last two decades. Of the three, Google, which is part of a holding company called Alphabet is the most powerful, intriguing, and omnipresent in our lives. This is how it came to be.
Most people love Google. It's changed our world, insinuated itself in our lives, made itself indispensable. You probably don't even have to type Google.com into your computer, it's often the default setting, a competitive advantage Google paid billions of dollars for. No worry. Google is worth more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars right now and you don't get that big by accident.
Since going public in 2004, Google has acquired more than 200 companies, expanding its reach across the internet. It bought YouTube, the biggest video platform. It bought Android, the operating system that runs 80% of the world's smartphones and it bought DoubleClick, which distributes much of the world's digital advertising, all of this barely raising an eyebrow with regulators in Washington.
Steve Kroft: Were any of those acquisitions questioned by the antitrust division of the Justice Department?
Gary Reback: Some were investigated, but only superficially, the government just really isn't enforcing our antitrust laws. And that's what's happened. None of these acquisitions have been challenged.
Gary Reback is one of the most prominent antitrust lawyers in the country widely credited with persuading the Justice Department to sue Microsoft back in the 90s, the last major antitrust case against big tech. Now he is battling Google.
Steve Kroft: You think Google's a monopoly?
Gary Reback: Oh, yes, of course Google's a monopoly. In fact they're a monopoly in several markets. They're a monopoly in search. They're a monopoly in search advertising.
Those technologies are less than 25 years old, and may seem small compared to the industrial monopolies like railroads and standard oil a century ago but Reback says there's nothing small about Google.
Gary Reback: Google makes the internet work. The internet would not be accessible to us without a search engine
"People tell their search engine things they wouldn't even tell their wives... And that gives the company that controls it a mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society."
Steve Kroft: And they control it.
Gary Reback: They control access to it. That's the important part. Google is the gatekeeper for-- for the World Wide Web, for the internet as we know it. It is every bit as important today as petroleum was when John D. Rockefeller was monopolizing that.
Last year, Google conducted 90% of the world's internet searches. When billions of people asked trillions of questions it was Google that provided the answers using computer algorithms known only to Google.
Jonathan Taplin: They have this phrase they use, "competition is just a click away." They have no competition. Bing, their competition, has 2% of the market. They have 90%.
Jonathan Taplin is a digital media expert and director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. He says Google's expertise may be technology, but its business is advertising. And its most valuable commodity is highly specialized information about us. It's helped Google control roughly 60% of worldwide advertising revenue on the internet. Taplin says traditional companies can't compete because they don't have the data.
Jonathan Taplin: They know who you are, where you are, what you just bought, what you might wanna buy. And so if I'm an advertiser and I say, "I want 24-year-old women in Nashville, Tennessee who drive trucks and drink bourbon," I can do that on Google....MUCH MORE, including video