Google Place Pages—Examining the Effect of Google’s Content Limitation Decision on Small Businesses
For many kinds and sizes of businesses, especially small businesses, a Google Place Page has become a significant component of their Internet marketing, especially since so many consumers search for local businesses online. A company’s Google Place Page doesn’t just provide location and contact information. It is also where customers can find photos, videos and in-depth content about that company. Some of that in-depth content is in the form of reviews and ratings. Local businesses rely on what others say about them to help attract new customers and retain current ones.
With Google’s announcement in late July 2011 that it would cease copying content from other Internet sources to include on its customers’ Place Pages, a conundrum has occurred. Local businesses will no longer benefit from that third-party content which Google has added or linked to their Place Pages. However, Google’s competitors, such as Yelp, are pleased that the search-engine giant is no longer taking content from them that their users originally created. To succeed in the shadow of Google, review sites like Yelp must be able to post exclusive reviews and ratings that don’t also appear on Google Place Pages or any other search engine.
Digital, computer and Internet technologies may be powerful forces and important tools in modern life, but they are still in their infancy from a historical perspective. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that some companies are able to acquire a much greater share of the marketplace than might be the case 100 years from today. The same phenomenon occurred during the early years of the railroad, oil, steel and automobile industries, to name the most obvious. A few individuals/companies dominated those industries until the government and the law decided they were competing unfairly and stepped in to regulate their hold on the market.
The antitrust case filed against Microsoft by the U.S. Department of Justice and other nations more than 10 years ago is a more recent example of the government’s willingness to regulate big business to achieve fairness in the marketplace. Microsoft simply pursued the opportunities presented to it in a wide-open industry, the implications of which the government didn’t understand at first. The situation may not have been quite as dramatic but Microsoft had to be shown the limits of its business, just as the railroad tycoons and oil and steel barons of the 19th century had to be corralled to create a fairer, more even playing field.
With the 2010 antitrust probe of Google by the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission decided to initiate its own investigation during June 2011. Like Microsoft, Google has allowed its entrepreneurial zeal to take it in whatever directions the industry has grown. Its growth isn’t necessarily about being a bad guy, but just too big of a guy to maintain a healthy, competitive economic environment.
For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved Google’s purchase of ITA. It manufactures travel-data software many travel sites use, so their customers can quickly search for the latest airline seating and pricing. To receive that approval, Google had to agree to a number of restrictions and a specific structuring of its business, and any future online travel site it might launch, that would protect the interests of its competitors that rely on ITA software.
Many of Google’s critics think the company (and the government) has only taken a small step to limit the practice of copying content from its competitors’ sites and services. Those critics state that Google continues to take other content and hasn’t yet said that it will remove content it may have copied in the past. Until the digital world reaches an age of maturity, as the unregulated new businesses of the 19th century and early 20th century had 100 to 150 years ago, there will be many voices asking their governments for relief from industry domination of companies, such as Microsoft and Google, and others yet unknown.