Monetizing The World’s Information
The Financial Times wrote today on the ambitions of Google Book search and the dangers that the GBS poses. As the piece notes, and we have long argued, approving the Google Book Settlement and handing Google a monopoly would “make it a dangerous threat to competitors.” While Google likes to talk about their voracious scanning (15 million books at last count) in the frame of its stated corporate mission (“to organize the world’s information”), the fact of the matter is that, in practice, Google is monetizing the world’s information.
Google loves to tout its digital smorgasbord of products and services, but doesn’t like to talk about the fact that 98% of its astounding revenues come from advertising, and more specifically, directed advertising targeted at Google users based on information that Google collects about them. In reality, Google users aren’t the “customers” – Google’s users are the “product” that Google sells to advertisers. Google Books is no exception. The Financial Times writes, “imagine much cheaper e-books that contain real-time embedded ads – flights to Sweden in the margins of a Stieg Larsson book, for example,” and that Google will “be able to sell all the in-copyright but out-of-print books it has scanned too, and subscriptions for the whole shebang to libraries and universities.”
On a separate, but related, matter, The New York Times editorialized on Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA Software (a leading provider of air travel search software), arguing that “Google cannot abuse its dominance in search to shut out the competition.” These concerns are equally applicable to the GBS – a Google monopoly, whether over books or over travel, and whether acquired by an abuse of the class action process or by purchasing another company, is bad for competition and bad for consumers.