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    “Few consumers would find alternative sources a suitable substitute for general search services.”


    Here is an excerpt from the plaintiffs’ October 2020 filing1 (pp. 28–29) in United States v. Google LLC (2020)

    1. Other search tools, platforms, and sources of information are not reasonable substitutes for general search services. Offline and online resources, such as books, publisher websites, social media platforms, and specialized search providers such as Amazon, Expedia, or Yelp, do not offer consumers the same breadth of information or convenience. These resources are not “one-stop shops” and cannot respond to all types of consumer queries, particularly navigational queries. Few consumers would find alternative sources a suitable substitute for general search services. Thus, there are no reasonable substitutes for general search services, and a general search service monopolist would be able to maintain quality below the level that would prevail in a competitive market. [emphasis added]

    I am a bit befuddled by this. I would (maybe tentatively) suggest that: (!) Social media platforms, Q&A sites, public wikis, and blogs can, and do, respond to “all types” of consumer queries. (2) Most search needs that currently lead users to searches on a general search service could be suitable substituted by alternative resources.

    In particularly, I want to know what research backs this claim:

    “Few consumers would find alternative sources a suitable substitute for general search services.”

    How important is the word “would” in this argument? Few consumers have found alternative sources a suitable substitute. But would they? I think many could. I think perhaps we should test it and find the bounds. I think it seems that there are no “reasonable” substitutes for general search services not only because of the monopoly, but also—and more insidious—because we’ve been shaped to see Google as search, to see that as the way to search, to see an answer engine, to see a place to lay down our questions, to see a place to feel lucky.

    I would love to see research that explores conditions under which folks do find alternative sources suitable as substitutes for general search services. I’m thinking of the folks that have decided to rely more on combining bits from local forums, news websites, public libraries, dictionaries and thesauruses, browser extensions, mobile apps, blogrolls, mailing lists, CB radio, IRC channels, or groups on social media for most of their questions. How many search queries could be substituted by better browser search history UI? Or a basic directory? I’d love to sit down with folks and talk through their search history and we can find which things we could search elsewhere, or could have searched elsewhere before a monopolist bought it up, or could easily search elsewhere if we break free from thinking general-purpose web search should be provided by one company.

    Getting deeper engagement on this sort of question will help us identify appropriate remedies to the problem posed by this dominant power.


    While I’ve mostly used the phrase “general-purpose web search” or “general-purpose web search engine”, perhaps the phrase “general search services” is useful.

    The above isn’t to deny that there are many searches we do that we might want to use general search services for or that there might be many more such searches than we can even imagine right now. I just want to extract those claims from their legal role and find some texture.


    1. Case 1:20-cv-03010 Document 1 Filed 10/20/20 (64 pages)↩︎