Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Search Could Actually Be Great for Google (Why? Antitrust.)

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

monopoly_millionaireBecause it’s barely launched yet and not fully fleshed out, financial analysts are saying today that they don’t see Facebook’s new search product as a big competitor to Google, for now.

But the fact that Facebook has finally made its search intentions known could actually be really good for Google. That’s because regulators — especially those in Europe, who are in the thick of deciding whether to settle with Google over antitrust — now have the prospect of additional search competition to consider.

Google has about 70 percent of the search market share in the U.S., but it has 90 percent of the market in many European countries, where Microsoft’s Bing is not much of a player.

By contrast, people all over the world actively use Facebook — and if those Graph Search queries eventually add up, it could impact the way people view the search market. Social search may be different from general Web search, but if you’re trying to find a restaurant or a dentist or a product, there is absolutely overlap.

Plus, Facebook’s notion of search — which ends in people and pictures and recommendations — lends credence to Google’s defense that modern search is about answers to questions, not simple links to Web pages.

“Facebook’s entry into the search market with a dynamic new product is clear evidence that the search market is competitive,” said Daniel O’Connor, who directs public policy and government affairs at the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which includes both Google and Microsoft but leans toward Google’s point of view in the antitrust case. “Facebook is a large, savvy company that clearly thinks that they can cut into Google’s search market share.”

He added, “It gives Google a better hand in negotiations with the European Commission, as market entry is an important consideration in the commission’s antitrust analysis.”

Google has privately told regulators that it was concerned about Facebook’s intentions in search, according to multiple sources close to the situation. Of course, talking up the merits of potential competition is something companies only tend to do when they’re being questioned. Google also talked up Amazon’s strength in shopping, the emergence of Apple’s Siri for voice search on the iOS platform, and even little startups like the privacy-conscious DuckDuckGo.

Facebook’s search launch didn’t arrive in time to factor into the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s investigation of Google, but Google was essentially cleared on those charges.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik