This article is part of our Rising Stars Portfolio series.
When I purchased shares of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) for my Rising Stars portfolio, I contended that, "Despite its occasional difficulties in avoiding 'evil,' it manages to stay largely positive in often surprising ways." Does the Federal Trade Commission's recent move to formally probe Google on antitrust grounds mean the search giant isn't so socially responsible?
There are few details of the complaints or allegations that the FTC plans to lodge against Google, although we all know of the company's powerful presence in online information. The Wall Street Journal recently cited the infamous "people familiar with the matter," who believe the FTC is probing whether Google has abused its power in Internet search and advertising.
"Abuse" sounds pretty evil -- until you remember that the FTC has gotten this sort of thing wrong before. In 2007, when it tried to block Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFM ) acquisition of rival Wild Oats on antitrust grounds, I seriously wondered whether FTC regulators actually resided on a different planet. The situation simply made no sense in a real-world context.
Even with Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats, consumers still have plenty of options for buying organic and natural foods, including private companies like Trader Joe's, Safeway (NYSE: SWY ) , and even Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) . Oppressed consumers aren't exactly starved for choice.
Similarly, people who want to conduct Internet searches have plenty of options from big, well-known companies like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) . It's not like Bing is so very far away; in fact, it takes fewer key strokes to go Bing something. Google's argument that competition "is only one click away" sounds solid to me.
Google isn't a perfect company -- I give much greater credence to privacy concerns about its trove of user data. But I still contend that its positive attributes far outweigh negative ones. The FTC seems to be punishing this company for having a good search product that people choose to use, not protecting users from one market player that forces everyone into its service because there are no other choices. There's nothing evil about having a wicked good product.
Let me know your thoughts on Google's good or evil nature in the comments box below, or participate in my Foolish colleague Tim Beyers' poll: "Does Google Need to Be Broken Up?"
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