During COVID-19 shutdown, Google tries expanding monopoly power while the rest of the country struggles

(Photo Illustration by Tamal Shee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

It’s been a tough week for the American economy. Unemployment is trending upwards, large swaths of the workforce remain in quarantine, and the government announced that it won’t re-evaluate things for at least another month. But while America’s distracted dealing with the community-destroying coronavirus, Google continues to push ahead with actions that risk further monopolization of the digital world.  

As Americans shelter in place, fearful of their uncertain future, Google is using the crisis to increase its market share even further. A Google Chrome project manager announced in a recent e-mail that despite the coronavirus’ disruption to the tech industry, the company would plow full steam ahead with its controversial removal of third-party cookies.      

Many had already worried about the effects of Google’s near-monopoly on online user data, but now it appears poised to cut off the last semblance of competition while smaller companies, too weak from the virus, are unable to fight back. In removing third-party cookies – the small pieces of data that allow companies to collect information on their users – Google is effectively strong-arming all companies to use Google’s ad services. 

Google stated that they are doing this to protect user privacy and that they would develop a “sandbox” for developers to work with to help with the transition. All the move seems to do, though, is put Google in full control of all its users’ data, giving one big company with a historically bad track record of protecting privacy the sole authority to collect the information. As a handout to affected parties, they also said they’d accept an alternative if the industry could create one. With the onset of the coronavirus, small companies have seen their resources significantly constrained, and it appears more likely that they’ll be forced to give into whatever Google creates for them. Developers had been asking for a delay in the cutoff process due to the virus, but Google’s response shows they have little concern for anything aside from its financial interests. 

It’s not surprising that Google has taken this approach. Over the years, they have developed a history of abusing smaller companies and have largely gone unchallenged. You may recall that before the virus shuttered its doors, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments about Google’s abuse of its competitors. The corporate behemoth had been accused of stealing 11,500 lines of Java code in developing its Android system and has been asked by lower courts to pay huge fines.

To get out of legal trouble, the company has been trying to expand the legal definition of fair use – an exception to copyright granted in very limited circumstances for criticism of original works or for using the original for transformative purposes – beyond its intent. Now, with the virus threatening every corner of the globe, Google finds itself free of even the law’s reaches at this crucial moment. With the Supreme Court shut down, its legal strategy leaves open the possibility that more developers’ work will be fair game for Google to steal moving forward. 

As the national shutdown continues, companies are at a more considerable disadvantage to fight back against Google’s bully tactics than ever before, and innovation may suffer. Many have pointed out the level of innovation that came out of the last recession. Companies like Uber and Squarespace found their start at the time. But will the next Squarespace ever get off the ground if Google can control the entire data market, or blatantly rip off software? Oracle seems to have suffered when Google’s Android entered the phone market and used the stolen code to push Oracle out. As the virus continues to leave Google held unaccountably, the question becomes, “who’s next?” 

The coming weeks will bring many challenges for our country. How we work, relax, and interact will all become more digitized as our lives become more reliant on cyberspace. While we can reap the fruits of the tech industries’ labor, the prosperous future will grow deeper and deeper in jeopardy the longer Google can act as a monopoly. Let us hope the shutdown ends before Google can successfully enact even more damage.


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Mark Anthony


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