Google Under the Gun

This is news? According to a lengthy and interesting article in TheWall Street Journal today, eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) is pursuing talks with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) because it's worried about Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . OK, maybe the whole Microsoft/Yahoo! angle is news. But eBay's worries about Google horning in on its racket would have earned a great big "No doy!" back on my playground.

Google often claims that it just wants to catalogue and present all the world's knowledge. But what "non-evil" Google really wants is to make loads of money from its position as the premier collector and distributor of other people's info. That's why Google is working so hard to horn in on other people's rackets. You've got Gmail and other online personal organization tools trying to take a bite out of Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL. You've got Picasa working deals with photo-printing sites run by the likes of Walgreen (NYSE: WAG  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) .

And -- this is where eBay's nerves begin to fray -- you've got Google Base, a classified listing service that's a threat to eBay and newspapers galore. Not to mention that new Google voice-chat tool, which is clearly aiming to chomp on eBay's Skype.

Unfortunately for eBay, coping with Google requires one of those delicate new-economy dances. Search for just about any item at Google, from Humvee to Hummel Figurine, and you'll see an ad paid for by eBay. I don't believe Google's search is superior to the competition's anymore -- for my money, both Microsoft and Yahoo! have it beat -- but that means nothing, because Google has the leading share in Internet search, and it's getting bigger. eBay needs Google to send buyers to its site, but at the same time, it needs to strangle parts of Google before they get too big to wrestle.

I'm not sure what kind of strategy would work for eBay, or whether Microsoft or Yahoo! could even help. The Journal article suggests some yawnworthy technology swaps and a half-hearted Google counteroffer. How much of it is realistic, we don't know, because it's based mostly on vague, anonymous reports from those infamous "people familiar with the meetings."

But the takeaway for investors may be a line attributed to PayPal President Jeff Jordan. "Google 'has catalyzed the Valley' into figuring out ways to oppose it," the Journal reported.

On the heels of Google's 60% earnings increase and the subsequent stock pop, that might not scare the Street. But it ought to. There are a lot of smart people out there in Silicon Valley, and you don't want them all working on ways to cut you off at the knees. Just ask the folks up there in Redmond.

Microsoft is aMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation. See why our cheap-stock guru, Philip Durell, thinks Mr. Softy has been overlooked with a free 30-day guest pass.

Seth Jaysonprefers Windows Live Local to Google anything, but then, at the time of publication, he had shares of Microsoft. He had no position in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profilehere. eBay and Time Warner areStock Advisorrecommendations. Fool rules arehere.


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