Google Builds a Better Mousetrap and their Reward is an Antitrust Investigation?

“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

While this is actually a misquote of Ralph Waldo Emerson from the nineteenth century, the phrase is an affirmation of the power of innovation and a confirmation that hard work and great ideas will be rewarded by the marketplace.

Fast forward about 130 years or so and the saying might well be:

“Build a better mousetrap and the Feds will beat down your door.”

It seems that Google, because of their better mousetrap, is now the target of an FTC investigation, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal. And while there has been no official announcement as to what the probe will entail, experts are speculating that the investigation will examine whether Google searches unfairly point consumers to Google’s own network of services at the expense of the competition.

Oh, Say it Ain’t So!

How dare Google exploit their own search results in an attempt to steer people toward Google services! Why that would be like McDonald’s not offering their customers a Whopper; or the Apple store not offering HP laptops! How dare they, I say! As Americans, we cannot stand by a let a company like Google be rewarded for their better mousetrap; we must stand united with the Federal Trade Commission and allow them to dismantle any company that would dare profit from their own innovations.

In all seriousness, the free markets have (by a 2:1 margin) determined that Google’s search results are superior to what came before or since. Why should anyone expect Google to not profit from this innovation? Why should we expect Google to highlight their competitors in their search results? (Um, which by the way, they do.) Why should we expect Google to not build out a better suite of mousetraps (like Google Places) that make the Google results even more relevant to consumers?

The truth is that if Google does not deliver what consumers want, consumers will try other search engines and Google would quickly lose its market dominance. Google became Google because their results are relevant. (I truly cannot recall the last time I looked past the first page of Google results for anything.) Google understands better than anyone that they cannot break the trust of consumers or Google’s market share will evaporate just as quickly as it grew.

Who’s Next Up for the FTC?

I most often shop at Safeway for groceries and I noticed that the Safeway brands are ALWAYS priced lower than the national brands. This seems like Safeway is trying to steer me toward their brands so that they can (wait for it…) … make money! Moreover, Safeway decides what to put on sale and what not put on sale. This seems like an unfair practice, because my favorite brand of mustard is almost never on sale there. (Sacrilege.)

Is Safeway next up for the FTC? Not likely, but how far are we from an FTC antitrust investigation into Facebook? Does Facebook compete unfairly because they only sell Facebook ads on their website? Shouldn’t they allow others like Yahoo! or ReachLocal to sell their own ads and place them on Facebook? How about services on the horizon for Facebook that will have the sole intention of keeping people from leaving Facebook to do anything else on the Web? (I don’t even like Facebook that much, but they have every right to build a better mousetrap and provide additional Facebook services that will engage their user base – even if that means that users no longer visit other websites.)

As a business owner, I have no right to a share of Google’s traffic – even if my website provided a superior or less expensive alternative to whatever Google ranks above me. It is up to the markets to decide my fate (and Google’s); and the Feds should stay out of it.