Mike Lee Channels Orrin Hatch’s Tech-Ignorant Ways
I’ve gone on the record saying that I think Mike Lee is a poser, someone who was at the right place at the right time saying the right things to get elected to the US Senate to replace “Bailout Bob” Bennett. I’ve doubted his sincerity from the moment the candidate nobody had heard of started a series of “lectures on the constitution” ahead of his official announcement. Just yesterday, he announced via Twitter and Facebook that he plans to take on Google in anti-trust hearings. The reasoning behind this shows a dangerous lack of understanding about both free markets and technology.
Lee almost immediately cites concerns from “those who follow the tech industry” that Google “could be acting to harm competition”. We should all be asking immediately who these concerned individuals are. Odds are good that those “concerned” are those who simply cannot build a better mousetrap and are trying to use the power of the federal government to give their own inferior products a leg up. (Yeah, Bing, I went there.) Without knowing the source of the complaints, we are left to assume the worst, that we’re in a Mandy Rice-Davies situation.
Lee then continues to express concern about Google’s dominance in the search sector. This, however, seems completely ignorant of tech history and how many other search giants have come crashing down. Remember when Yahoo was on top of the search game? It’s but a distant memory. I doubt many of you will even remember AltaVista or Webcrawler, but they too fell to better products. We’re already seeing a slow migration of some users to Blekko or Wolfram Alpha, frustrated that Google is having so much trouble keeping out the content farms and black hat SEOs. Even Bing has picked up a small following with a few innovative features designed around organizing like data.
Once a search engine no longer does search well, people will bolt and there is nothing to keep them from doing so. The kind of stickiness that Microsoft enjoys on the desktop does not exist on the Internet. If it did, Facebook and it’s unportable data ways would be a much better example of it, but even that may be solved if Diaspora ends up taking off. Google has its own list of very notable failures including Wave, Knol, Coupons, and many others.
Most of these services are currently being provided by other companies that figured out how to do it right. Foursquare beats Latitude handily. Twitter trounces Buzz. Orkut couldn’t even beat Friendster or MySpace, much less Facebook. Google TV just can’t best Apple TV, Roku, or Boxee. Google is not the unstoppable behemoth that its competition makes it out to be. As big and creative as they are, they, much like Microsoft, have spent billions on abject failures.
This brings up a greater point: the Internet is very good at fixing itself most of the time. Censorship is treated as damage and routed around. Closed systems that try to hold your data hostage (like AOL) collapse against the power and flexibility of open standards and communication. Google does a reasonably good job of letting you pick up your toys and going home if you so choose. In the face of all of this, I’ve got to wonder why a US Senator is going to resort to concern trolling, especially when it runs counter to his central campaign message that he would take a scorched earth policy with the federal government.
Let’s also get some perspective on their tracking activities. Answer this question honestly: how often does Google display ads that have absolutely no relevance to you, even when you’re logged in with your Google account? For me, it’s more often than not. If they can know exactly who I am, have access to all of my e-mail from the last six years, and still can’t show ads that mean sometime to me, they are nowhere near as dangerous to my privacy as many of us would like to think.
Senator Lee’s dangerously ignorant anti-Google screed shows that he and his staff lack adequate education on technologies issues. It also raises very serious questions as to who has pushed the Senator to take such low-information positions. In my book, this moves Lee from somewhat innocuous poser to a dangerous force in Washington. Sorry, Mike, but you’ve sealed your fate with this techie.
PS: As an extra gem, Senator Lee tweeted just moments later “No other business should come before the Senate that doesn’t focus on spending or debt until we have funded the government.” Except for his Google witch hunt, right?