X Close

How Barack Obama created the Google monster

Then Senator Barack Obama answers questions from Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt. Credit: Getty

September 12, 2023 - 10:00am

Google appears in a US courtroom today as the defendant in the biggest competition lawsuit for two decades. This case is apparently part of Joe Biden’s mission to cut Big Tech down to size, with another lawsuit against Amazon reportedly imminent. But we should remember that the President was a member of the administration that created the problem in the first place.

With Biden as his running mate in 2012, Obama won a surprisingly comfortable victory, and by a margin far greater than his team had expected. The two candidates, Obama and Mitt Romney, were neck and neck as the poll date neared, with the Republican challenger edging into a slight lead in the critical weeks from 9 October in the majority of the polls taken. But when the counting was done, Team Obama discovered it had five million more votes than it had anticipated.

Credit for this went to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who had stepped down as CEO in 2011 to play a key role in the campaign, masterminding the “boiler room” on Election Day. As Bloomberg reported, Schmidt was “an underappreciated asset”, who “helped recruit talent, choose technology, and coach the campaign manager, Jim Messina”. 

At the time, Google’s arch rival Microsoft was running a punchy, popular and highly personal ad campaign called “Scroogled”, featuring a cartoon of a creepy and predatory Schmidt. But more significantly, one of the two federal competition watchdogs, the Federal Trade Commission, had built a strong case that Google had abused its market dominance of searches to harm consumers and stifle innovation. A lawsuit was expected. 

Within weeks of the 2012 vote, though, all the investigations were dropped, and no lawsuits were ever filed during Obama’s second term. And after pressure from the White House in the spring of 2013, according to insiders with knowledge of the talks, the Scroogled campaign was dropped too, and Microsoft and Google began to collaborate closely. The war was over.

We only know how strong the FTC’s case against Google had been when, some years later, the FTC accidentally disclosed internal material to a newspaper. FTC staff had recommended filing lawsuits on three of the four points it had investigated, alleging that Google had abused its dominant market position. Yet no lawsuits were filed because the Obama administration went soft, allowing Google and others to negotiate behavioural remedies instead.

In fact, what took place after the 2012 election was “the most extreme example of ‘regulatory capture’ we have seen in Washington in recent years,” according to the National Legal and Policy Centre. Over the next few years former Google executives, and senior lawyers at firms that Google retained, took on key roles in the Obama administration. The posts included: Assistant to the President (and her deputy), Chief Technology Officer, the head of the patents office, and, astonishingly, two of its top antitrust officers. 

Since Google beat the antitrust rap 10 years ago, Big Tech’s largest companies, including Amazon, Meta and Microsoft, have grown fivefold. Google has extended its dominance into areas, like smartphones, that agencies wanted to hinder. Much of this can be attributed to Obama. As the competition activist Matt Stoller noted: “Obama’s FTC knew Google was engaged in monopolization, the lawyers said sue, and… nothing. All of this was in 2012.”

Little wonder that, free of serious scrutiny, Big Tech has flourished. But if Obama hadn’t fallen so hard for the seductive techno-utopian promises of Google a decade ago, we might not have a problem with Big Tech at all. 

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

17 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
10 months ago

“This case is apparently part of Joe Biden’s mission to cut Big Tech down to size”

I don’t see any evidence that Google is letting the regime down; they block everything that governments don’t want you to see.
Is Biden batting for Gates here?

Last edited 10 months ago by Nik Jewell
R Wright
R Wright
10 months ago

This article avoids the reason why all of this happened. The partnership between the U.S batuonal security state and Big Tech place in the months following Occupy, which had showed them how effective an alliance between corporations and the state could be when it comes to stifling dissent.

2012 was the linchpin year, when everything we see now infesting our screens comes from. It is the same year that the U.S legalised propaganda against its own citizens, that the leakers of various state secrets were clamped down upon and when the Tea Party was essentially destroyed.

Glyn R
Glyn R
10 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

“which had showed them how effective an alliance between corporations and the state could be when it comes to stifling dissent”
ie.perhaps they realised how easy it would be to impose fascism if they said it was done to protect the people.
“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini. 

Last edited 10 months ago by Glyn R
Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
10 months ago

About the only returns I get from Google these days are endless ads for companies selling something related to what I actually searched for, not the information I wanted. It’s like walking into the mall instead of the library.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
10 months ago

Regulatory capture is inevitable. The regulated have a vested interest in bending the rules to their advantage. The other side of the argument — the public — has a diffuse interest, with the public interest in the regulation of a specific industry being directly proportional to the pain that industry is causing at any given moment. Avoid being directly offensive, and you can get away with anything.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

The other aspect is that the inexorable growth of the regulatory state more or less forces corporates and other players to seek to influence government. It is increasingly difficult for companies just to obey a few laws but otherwise focus on products and markets. Instead they increasingly have no choice but to take an interest in an ever more intrusive government. Even if a company starts merely playing a defensive game it soon ends up seeking unfair advantage or even agency capture. It is now true that each dollar invested in lobbying to secure favourable regulations has a far larger return than one invested in new plant. Unfortunately no one knows how to prevent the exponential growth in regulations, the first cause of these problems.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
9 months ago

Well ‘Orange Bookers’
who controls this site ?
Unherd Ventures Limited, a private company owned by Sir Paul Marshall, owns and publishes the website. Sir Paul Marshall is the Chairman of Marshall Wace LLP, a prominent hedge fund group. Marshall is also an investor in the Right-leaning TV News station GB News

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
9 months ago

Awaiting for approval. why do you have to check with AI

Well ‘Orange Bookers’
who controls this site ?
Unherd Ventures Limited, a private company owned by Sir Paul Marshall, owns and publishes the website. Sir Paul Marshall is the Chairman of Marshall Wace LLP, a prominent hedge fund group. Marshall is also an investor in the Right-leaning TV News station GB News

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago

If Google was apparently so partial to Obama, how then does the writer account for the fact that, in 2017, Google was spreading stories that Obama, aided by the Chinese, was plotting a coup:
https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.4011751/why-google-home-is-spreading-a-fake-story-about-barack-obama-plotting-a-coup-1.4011758
And Biden is very keen to rein in Big Tech, as he views them as being key enablers, not of the Democrats, but of the radical right:
https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/joe-biden-technology-zoom-netflix-amazon-gamestop-b918341.html
No such nuances are permitted in this cherry-picked excuse for an article. 

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

The article you cite doesn’t allege any effort by Google to spread stories about Obama. It simply gives a few examples of how crappy Google is and how it gets stuff wrong.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

Same theme as a few other UnHerd missives – concoct some spurious nonsense where we can blame Obama as even if twaddle alot of our subscribers will lap it up.
Now question – what did Trump do about Big Tech in his 4yrs? By which time of course we were all becoming much more aware of how it could act? Not alot was it. In fact v interesting how having one of his strongest supporters, Peter Thiel, on Facebook Board with the ear of Zuckerman may have limited too much criticism of FBs complicity and negligence in the dissemination of false information. Fascinatingly too how the Federal Trade Commission, with a Republican majority, limited the subsequent fine to the extent FBs shares rose immediately afterwards.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

a lot is two words.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Huh? Zuckerman? The Philip Roth character? What in the name of Zeus are you writing here? This is twaddle. Piffle. Jibber jabber.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Noted there seems to be an hour between your two comments. Interesting neuronal speed there, but somewhat glad you took the time.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
10 months ago

I’m very far from a cheerleader for either Obama or Google or Microsoft, but the idea that Google’s dominance is down to Obama is ludicrous.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

It would appear that those downvoting you might agree with the article, with Obama being the scapegoat for Big Tech dominance. In other news, Obama failed to prevent climate change.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

This I agree with