Pulse Flash Read: Lessons from the Google lawsuit

You’ve probably seen that Google is getting sued by the DOJ for monopolizing and violating antitrust laws. 2020 is bad for all of us, but Alphabet, Google’s all-seeing umbrella corporation, started the year by pulling out of its flagship city-of-the-future utopia SideWalk Toronto, and will end it dealing with a lawsuit. Life must be tough at the top. The main reason behind the lawsuit is the fact that Google has been paying Apple billions to be the default browser presented to Apple users. Google doesn’t deny this—in a blog post, Kent Walker, SVP of Global Affairs at Google, states that it’s standard business practice:  “Yes, like countless other businesses, we pay to promote our services, just like a cereal brand might pay a supermarket to stock its products at the end of a row or on a shelf at eye level. For digital services, when you first buy a device, it has a kind of home screen “eye level shelf.” The whole blog post reads more like a resources page on Google Devs, only with added sass, complete with demonstrations of how simple it is to switch to different search engines if users so choose, along with some scary stuff thrown in about ‘phone prices would be higher if we didn’t give Apple all these dollars yadder yadder yadder.’ But hang on a second—hasn’t Apple been making a big deal about it’s privacy-first approach? Taking billions of dollars that have come via Google’s MO of selling private user data feels a little like politicians taking money from the mob for prime construction contracts. Sure, they didn’t whack anyone for the money but they’ll happily benefit from the ones who did. While Google probably does have a case for this being standard business practice, this feels more like a warning about big tech than an excuse. Because this isn’t cereal in a supermarket—this is software that guides choices everyday, for individuals and enterprises. That has society-level impacts. Tech has been thrust onto the front pages throughout the pandemic, which has come with increased public scrutiny. Cities around the globe are developing digital strategies to get a handle on the tech landscape of their jurisdiction, and to better educate the civilians whose lives are being changed by the tech companies operating within those cities. It feels like we’re moving inexorably towards the big ‘R ’— Regulation. With Regulation on the horizon, it seems like the time has come to read the room and rethink those standard practices. Because when the public becomes aware of these goings on and all they hear back is, “Well everyone’s doing it!” it doesn’t ring like reassurance.  Does the C-suite, particularly the lesser-mentioned CCO (Chief Compliance Officer), function mostly to put out fires whenever new rules get laid down across different jurisdictions? Ensure arguments are watertight when the next lawsuit comes up? Have the right PR firm in place to ghostwrite the blog post response? Or can the CXO roles function to hold up a mirror to the organization and ask is this how we should do this?  If the roadmap to regulation is a proactive process, a company is able to place that front and center of their messaging. Think of the headaches GDPR in the EU caused across the board for global businesses. Adopting a long-term strategy that anticipates aspects of the business that could be targeted by regulation might put an organization in a highly marketable position when the time comes: we didn’t just say ‘But that’s how it’s done!’ We asked, ‘What’s a better way to do this?’

Has the lawsuit made you think about your organization’s practices? Or do you think Google will come away looking more bulletproof than ever?

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