What happens if you Google “Google” on your Google Chrome browser? Well, you get further evidence of its vastness and ubiquity in most of our lives – Google Maps, Google News, Google YouTube, Google Cloud and all the rest. A glance at the relevant news results among the 2,800,000,000 hits the G-word generates reveals that the company’s ad revenues now equal the income of the BBC; paid clicks are up 31 per cent, though revenues per click are down a bit. Google’s recent purchase of DeepMind, a British artificial intelligence company, confirms the extent of its ambitions.
So what? Well, as in many areas of economic life, the presence of a single dominating force does raise questions about competition and the best interests of consumers. Other things being equal, a company the size of Google has, for example, a much better chance of avoiding taxation – albeit perfectly legally – than many smaller outfits. Public and parliamentary disquiet about this has been felt for some time, but there seems little prospect of radical change. With the exception of the pre‑Reformation Church, there has never been a more dramatic disparity between the size and prosperity of an “enterprise” and the material contribution it makes to the Exchequer. Nor, by the way, are many impressed by Google’s relationship with the Chinese government, in allegedly limiting searches and dissemination of information.
Still, there is no law that says Google has to be this behemoth in perpetuity. Not so long ago, people fretted about the “power” of Microsoft, and before that of IBM, and, stretching back through the decades, of General Motors and all the way to the great steel, railway and oil “trusts” busted by Ed Miliband’s political hero, Teddy Roosevelt, a century ago. As with the other giants of our time, Google, one day, will pass into corporate maturity and in due course senescence. The authorities should certainly examine whether its sheer size represents an unfair barrier to entry to challengers. In the meantime, we hope that Google continues using technological innovation to change society for the good.