In its rise to Web dominance, Google has displaced plenty of companies, upended several industries, and made a slew of enemies along the way. Some of the adversaries are industry giants in their own right, such as Microsoft and Apple. Others are little-known start-ups that get publicity for raising concerns about Google but often fade back to obscurity when the news cycle ends.
For some rivals, the enmity runs deep. They accuse Google of poaching employees and infringing on copyrights. And still there are others whose complaints about Google’s dominance seems more strategic, an effort to put a hurdle in the way of the Web giant’s inexorable march on new markets.
With the Federal Trade Commission opening a probe into Google’s competitive practices, those enemies will have a new opportunity to raise their concerns to trustbusters. The list of enemies is long. Here are a few:
Microsoft: There’s no company that competes more aggressively with Google over a broader swath of products and services than Microsoft. It starts with search and search advertising, where Google continues to trounce Microsoft, despite billions spent by the software giant to displace it. Google is making headway against Microsoft in the productivity applications business, offering online versions of e-mail, spreadsheet, and word processing programs that compete with Microsoft’s Office suite. Its Chrome browser has taken market share from Internet Explorer. Its Android mobile phone operating system emerged as the most viable alternative to the iPhone in the smartphone market, and not Windows Phone. Microsoft’s recent bid to acquire Internet video chat provider Skype is seen by many through the spectrum of competition with Google, which has its own Google Voice service. And Microsoft, which knows better than most the difficult of a prolonged scuffle with trustbusters, has been the most active Google competitor running to regulators to voice its concerns.
Apple: It’s one of the oldest memes in the world–the best of friends can sometimes turn into the worst of enemies. In its early days, Google and Apple worked closely, so much so that Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple’s board. Those bonds broke, though, as Google began to develop its Android mobile phone operating system.Schmidt stepped down from Apple’s board, and soon thereafter Jobs reportedly laid into Google at an internal company meeting, saying, “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake, they want to kill the iPhone.” The companies now compete in the browser market, e-mail, voice chat and a host of other services. And with Apple’s new iCloud offering, the companies are certain to butt heads in data storage as well.
Facebook: Google’s battle with Facebook is really about the future of the Web. If you believe that Facebook, where more and more computer users are spending their Web time, is becoming something of an alternative Internet, then Google has every right to be worried. While computer users are hanging out on Facebook, they’re not searching the Web using Google. Indeed, Facebook has forged ties with Microsoft, giving the Redmond rival access to its users to add social-networking features to its Bing search engine. Google has tried to match some Facebook features, most recently offering +1, a service that lets users show love for Web sites much in the same was Facebook users can “Like” a site. But at last month’s D9 conference, Schmidt, now Google’s executive chairman, acknowledged that he “screwed up” in watching social networking soar without Google.
Groupon:Google has made its mint selling online ads. But one area that’s proven somewhat difficult for the company is the local advertising market. Groupon, which offers daily deals in regional markets in 175 North American markets as well as markets in 42 other countries, has clearly cracked that market. That’s why Google reportedly offered $6 billion to acquire Groupon, a deal Groupon ultimately spurned. Google’s response: start its own rival daily deals service. Earlier this month, it rolled out Google Offers, starting first in Portland, Ore.
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Oracle: Database software leader Oracle isn’t the most obvious enemy for Google. The two companies, who have a common enemy in Microsoft, don’t compete in any meaningful way. But Oracle filed suit last year, accusing Google of infringing on Java patents that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in January 2010. Last week, Oracle added another filing to the case, noting that it’s seeking damages that run “in the billions of dollars.”
PayPal: Google Checkout is a certainly a competitor to PayPal as a way to pay for goods and services online. But Google has plenty of competitors. The fight became more interesting when PayPal accused Google of poaching a key employee. Last month, PayPal sued Google, accusing it of misappropriating trade secrets from its mobile-payment business when it hired Osama Bedier, who had been a senior executive at PayPal, working on its mobile-payments platform. The same suit also accused Google VP of Electronic Commerce Stephanie Tilenius, another former PayPal executive, of violating her contract by recruiting her former colleague, Bedier. In response to the suit, Google said it respects trade secrets and intends to defend itself against the claims.
Copyright holders: Not all copyright holders, to be sure. But Google, in its quest to organize all the world’s information, often acts first and asks questions later. News organizations, including Agence France Press, once challenged Google for posting headlines, photographs, and news summaries on its Google News aggregation site without permission. And in its most ambitious effort to digitize every book ever written, Google ran afoul of authors, photographers and publishers. Even a settlement struck with key groups was rejected last March by the federal judge overseeing the case.
Travel search sites: Google’s push to dominate the most widely searched queries led it to acquire ITA Software, a little-known but powerful provider of technology to the travel industry. Expedia, Kayak and Hotwire, among others, use ITA’s software to fuel their services. So they banded together to raise concerns to regulators that Google’s acquisition of ITA posed a serious competitive threat. The Justice Department approved the acquisition in April, but with the caveat that Google continue licensing ITA’s travel technology to rivals for five years on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” terms, and that Google forward to regulators any complaints from travel competitors about where they land in Google’s search rankings.
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and covers Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. He’s the author of the book, Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons (Penguin/Portfolio). He started writing about Microsoft and technology in 1998, first as a reporter for The Seattle Times and later as BusinessWeek’s Seattle bureau chief.