This was originally written for the daily newsletter published by the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer
Like the old tale of the blind men describing an elephant, where each one was convinced they had found a different animal based on whatever part they were touching, Wednesday’s congressional antitrust hearing with the heads of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook looked dramatically different depending on your perspective. The Wall Street Journal said the six-hour hearing showed that there was room for compromise between the way Republicans perceive the technology giants and the way that Democrats do. But Slate and a number of other outlets pointed out how most of the Republican members of Congress spent their time talking about alleged bias by Facebook and YouTube aimed at conservatives (something for which there is absolutely no evidence) rather than antitrust. The Verge‘s Casey Newton said the “lunatic whipsawing between companies, issues, and conspiracy theories” made the hearing feel like a social-media feed, and not in a good way: “Every question shouted, every answer interrupted, nothing truly ventured, and very little learned. Polarized and polarizing” (although Newton also said that in the end he came away “mostly heartened” at the idea that Congress might finally be prepared to do its job as an antitrust regulator.
Part of the problem — as with with the elephant — was that the hearing was just too massive and sprawling and unfocused, and tried to cover too much ground. As Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times pointed out, each of the tech companies should probably have had its own hearing, since the antitrust issues that apply to each one are very different (Will Oremus of One Zero said sources told him the technology companies themselves pressed for a hearing with all four, as a way of muddying the waters, and if true then their attempt was successful). Even at six hours, once you subtract the grandstanding and irrelevant questioning by people like Republican Matt Gaetz — who seemed most interested in whether the companies shared what he called “American values” — or the sad spectacle of Rep. Sensenbrenner asking Zuckerberg why Facebook took down a comment from Donald Trump Jr. (something Twitter did), there wasn’t much time for more than one or two hard-hitting questions about actual anti-competitive behavior.
The fact that there were even a few of these was held up by some as a triumph — Prospect.org called it “The Triumphant Return of Congress” — something that says a lot about just how low expectations are when it comes to these kinds of hearings. And yes, it was better than the one where Facebook was asked how it made money and Zuckerberg responded, as if speaking to a toddler, “Senator, we sell ads” (and Facebook definitely makes a lot of money doing so — on Thursday, the day after the hearing, the company reported that its revenues rose to $18 billion in the most recent quarter). One of the stars of the day was Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who came equipped with voluminous notes, including some of the 1.3 million documents that Congress has accumulated over the year or so this antitrust investigation has been underway. She pinned Zuckerberg with questions about his acquisition of Instagram, including emails that showed he was planning to build a competitor if the company didn’t sell, and the CEO could only stammer “I’m not sure what you mean by threaten.” She also asked some tough questions of Amazon, including pressing chief executive Jeff Bezos on whether the company used internal sales data to launch competing products (he said this is against the rules, and he’s looking into it).
There were other interesting tidbits that came out of the testimony and were directly related to antitrust, although they were arguably lost to most amid the barrage of interruptions and senseless questioning from some members of Congress. For example, Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook cut off Pinterest’s access to its API because it was a social-media competitor, but didn’t cut off Netflix’s access. As antitrust expert Hal Singer pointed out on Twitter, “discriminatory refusals to deal are illegal under the antitrust laws.” Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who coined the term “net neutrality,” noted that the purchase of Instagram, which seemed clearly designed to take out a potential competitor, could also be illegal under current antitrust laws, since it is “a violation of the Sherman Act to buy out a direct competitor and protect a monopoly.” Although there are those, including Alec Stapp of the Progressive Policy Institute, who have argued (with some justification) that the concern about the Instagram purchase suffers from “hindsight bias,” since virtually no one saw Instagram as a competitor at the time it was acquired, when it had only 30 million users and zero revenue.
For all of the congratulatory pieces about how hard-hitting Congress was with its questioning, or how the hearing showed that Republicans and Democrats are finally on the same page about the need to take action, very few pointed out that there is a conspicuous lack of information about what exactly Congress should do about any of this. And that’s because antitrust law for the last 40 years or so has focused on consumer harm when it comes to measuring anti-competitive behavior, and there is precious little evidence of consumer harm stemming from any of the behavior Congress is so concerned about (at least in the way that harm is usually defined). All of the tech titans provide their services for free, and they all argued quite convincingly that no one is forced to use any of their websites. Therefore, the impact of the hearings “will be limited by antitrust laws that were created a century ago and that are imperfect for corralling internet firms,” as the New York Times put it.
Some experts — including those we spoke to for a discussion series on these issues on CJR’s Galley platform — argue that the concept of harm under antitrust laws should be defined more broadly, so that things like an invasion of privacy would count. But until laws are changed, it’s going to be very difficult to apply that kind of standard, which makes all of those hard-hitting questions (all three or four of them) seem somewhat moot.
Here’s more on the tech hearings:
Mike Masnick of Techdirt pointed out in his analysis of the hearing that the absurdity of some of the questioning was revealed when several Republican lawmakers talked about how they were furious at Facebook and YouTube for removing a video promoting hydroxychloroquine (the one with the doctor who believes that some diseases are caused by demons), while Democrats were upset that Facebook didn’t take it down fast enough, and that more than 20 million people saw it before it was removed. Masnick also noted that the hearing involved “very little discussion of actual antitrust. There was plenty of airing of grievances, however, frequently with little to no basis in reality.”
The Markup has a breakdown of the lines of questioning directed at each of the tech firms, and according to a scorecard from The Verge, Apple arguably got off the lightest of any of the companies in today’s hearing, if only by volume of questions: Tim Cook got just 35, compared to 59 for Bezos, 62 for Mark Zuckerberg, and 61 for Sundar Pichai. The New York Times had a live-blog of the hearing, and the Washington Post‘s fashion critic wrote about it as well, saying Google CEO Sundar Pichai “was the sleekest of the lot in both appearance and setting. He wore an elegant charcoal suit and matching tie and was well-framed behind a desk that sat in an office that looked like it had been inspired by the West Elm catalogue.”
Wired magazine looked at the documents about Facebook’s pursuit of Instagram, including a message that Matt Cohler—venture capitalist, Instagram board member, and former Facebook employee—sent Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom after Zuckerberg had expressed an interest in buying it. “Will he go into destroy mode if I say no?” Systrom asked. Cohler replied: “Probably.” Gilad Edelman of Wired gave the hearings a B minus: “With the notable exceptions of Republicans Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, who relentlessly flogged the hobbyhorse of supposed anti-conservative bias on the tech platforms, the committee proved that this is a serious and legitimately bipartisan investigation. But the hearing also illustrated how complicated the cases against these companies are, and how difficult they are to make in the brief soundbites that form the basic currency of American political debate.”
Other notable stories:
The Department of Homeland Security has compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors, according to the Washington Post. Over the past week, the paper said, the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — New York Times reporter Mike Baker and Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents. Wittes wrote on Twitter that he is considering legal options.
The Nation says that it has internal documents that show the Department of Homeland Security recently instructed employees on how to arrest journalists and expose them to crowd suppressants like tear gas without being legally liable. It also delineates which legal protections are not extended to “normal protestors,” the Nation report says. The document tells DHS officials how to interpret a temporary restraining order issued last week by US District Judge Michael Simon in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleging that DHS officers had been attacking journalists in Portland.
Google, Facebook and other digital platforms could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines if they fail to comply with a news media bargaining code released by Australia’s competition regulator on Friday, the Guardian reports. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was asked to develop the mandatory code in April after negotiations between the digital platforms, the ACCC and media companies stalled, and media companies experienced a sharp fall in ad revenue due to Covid-19.
Steve Calabresi, co-founder of the Federalist Society and a professor of law at Northwestern, a staunch conservative who has called the investigation into Robert Mueller unconstitutional, wrote in the New York Times that Donald Trump’s tweet about potentially postponing the election was “fascistic” and “is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate.”
The Oregonian says it has even more documentation to support a previous story from 2019 about the Pac-12 conference signing a deal with the Los Angeles Times that promised to steer $100,000 in advertising to the paper in return for coverage of the conference. The paper now says that is has “internal communications from both the Pac-12 and Los Angeles Times that reveal new details of the partnership.” The Pac-12, which long denied there was a formalized agreement, for the first time now acknowledges it signed a contract to provide advertising revenue to The Times, according to the paper. “Emails, memos, and a human resources grievance show how the Pac-12 promised special access for the LA Times reporter and how the partnership set off alarm bells inside the news organization.”
A mandatory Pentagon training course sent to the entire force and aimed at preventing leaks refers to protesters and journalists as “adversaries,” according to a report from Politico. The briefing is part of a fictional scenario designed to teach Defense Department personnel how to better protect sensitive information. The course, which was created originally for a select group of officials in 2010, is part of Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s force-wide effort to improve “operational security,” or OPSEC, and clamp down on leaks, Politico says.
Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab has written an open letter to the new chief executive of the New York Times, Meredith Kopit Levien, asking her to “do more to help save local news in the United States.” Among other things, Benton asks the paper to share some of its ad-targeting data: “The Times has invested a lot of time and resources into developing a robust set of first-party data that will let advertisers target any of 45 distinct audience segments, and those slices are only going to get thinner and more numerous. Could you find a way to extend that data umbrella to high-quality local news organizations?”
Nina Berman writes for CJR about the freelance photographers who have been covering the protests in Portland, and some of the dangers they have faced in doing so. “Numerous photojournalists covering the Portland protests have reported bodily injuries from munitions and chemical weapons, as well as direct physical assaults. Increasingly, such violence directed at journalists seems inevitable—a matter of when, not if—as President Trump deploys federal agents to install his version of law and order.” Mason Trinca, a freelance photographer who has covered the protests for the New York Times, says “They have been shooting a lot more aggressively, a lot more flash-bangs.”
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is joining forces with Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization with a national reach, to launch Chalkbeat Philadelphia. According to a statement, the two nonprofits started thinking about a partnership years ago when Notebook co-founder and former editor Paul Socolar and Chalkbeat’s co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Green talked about industry concerns and goals. “We always saw the potential synergy because our programmatic work is so aligned, and we found ways to be supportive of each other’s work,” says Socolar. “The organizations are working to accomplish similar missions. The timing to partner formally seems right now.”
“Our founders would not bow before a king,” subcommittee chair Rep. David Cicilline said, introducing the four CEOs. “Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.” Why were all four testifying at once? Will Oremus of One Zero said he was told by sources that “it was the tech CEOs who fought to have this hearing include all four of them, in order to muddy the waters and dilute scrutiny.” And muddy the waters it definitely did.
Zuckerberg started with something that wasn’t in his prepared testimony: “”In many areas, we are behind our competitors,” Zuckerberg said. “The most popular messaging service in the US is iMessage. The fastest growing app is TikTok. The most popular app for video is YouTube. The fastest growing ads platform is Amazon. The largest ads platform is Google.”
WSJ: Republicans and Democrats Find a Point of Agreement: Big Tech Is Too Powerful; The unified anger over the reach of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google could signal future action by Congress: Chris Mims said “the hearing showed that the effort to regulate tech companies is becoming a big-tent issue, and possibly a place for compromise between conservatives worried largely about constraints on their speech, and liberals worried primarily about constraints on competition” https://www.wsj.com/articles/republicans-and-democrats-find-a-point-of-agreement-big-tech-is-too-powerful-11596118625?mod=djemalertNEWS
New York Times said: “Not since Microsoft stood trial in the late 1990s for antitrust charges have tech chief executives been under such a microscope for the power of their businesses. With echoes of the trustbusting of U.S. Steel and Standard Oil more than a century ago and AT&T in 1984, the hearing underlined the government’s recognition that this cohort of tech companies — which wield immense control over commerce, communications and public discourse — had become the new trusts of the internet age.” But also pointed out (as few other outlets did) that “any impact will be limited by antitrust laws that were created a century ago and that are imperfect for corralling internet firms. Since the 1980s, enforcement officials have used the notion of consumer welfare as the predominant test for antitrust violations — generally meaning that if prices are not going up, the markets are most likely competitive enough. The tech giants have generally not driven up prices of digital services or consumer goods; many do not charge at all for services like Google Maps or Instagram.”
However, the Times said the hearings might add fuel to other investigations: The Justice Department is expected to soon announce charges against Google accusing it of abusing its dominance in online advertising, people with knowledge of the investigation have said. The F.T.C. is preparing to question Mr. Zuckerberg under oath in its investigation of Facebook’s grip over social networking and acquisitions of nascent rivals.
Slate: Republicans Are Too Fixated on “Bias” to Conduct Actual Oversight of Tech; Faced with the rare opportunity to grill four tech CEOs, they asked questions about Gateway Pundit and faulty spam folders. Aaron Mak said: Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, which includes the antitrust subcommittee, didn’t even mention the hearing’s topic in his opening statement, beginning his remarks by stating, “I’ll just cut to the chase: Big Tech is out to get conservatives. That’s not a hunch, that’s not a suspicion, that’s a fact.” Republican Florida Rep. Greg Steube, for example, took the flimsy tack of citing anecdotal examples from his personal life. Steube first claimed that he had tried to do a Google search for the far-right, conspiracy-happy publication Gateway Pundit and did not see it among the top results. He also said that he wasn’t able to access the website when he typed in the URL, for unspecified reasons. He then reported that he was able to access the website from Google search within the last two weeks, and implied that the company had changed its algorithm—worth billions of dollars—in anticipation of the hearing. Sensenbrenner also asked why Donald Trump Jr.’s comment was taken down, at which point Zuckerberg noted that that happened on Twitter, not Facebook.
Colorado Rep. Ken Buck confronted Bezos about reports that Amazon had been using third-party sellers’ proprietary data to launch its own competing products. On the other hand, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz took the opportunity to question Pichai’s embrace of “American values.” By focusing so much time on weak examples of supposed conservative censorship, Republican lawmakers on the subcommittee have essentially prevented themselves from conducting oversight on a wide array of tech-related issues that are in dire need of addressing. (The hearing was still ongoing as of this writing.) The overall tenor of the Republican members’ priorities came into sharpest focus when Jordan was instructed to wear his mask when he was interrupting another representative’s time. He yelled, “You want to talk about masks—why would the deputy secretary of treasury unmask Michael Flynn’s name?”
The House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the market power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google ran to nearly six hours, accounting for a handful of delays and intermissions. Alternating Democrats and Republicans asked the CEOs of those companies a combined 217 questions, ranging from pointed questions about how Facebook intimidates smaller competitors (from Rep. Pramila Jayapal) to comically self-interested inquiries into why members’ fundraising emails are going to the spam folder (thank you, Rep. Greg Steube.)
Casey Newton of The Verge said “in its lunatic whipsawing between companies, issues, and conspiracy theories, today’s antitrust hearing resembled nothing so much as an endlessly scrolling social media feed. Every question shouted, every answer interrupted, nothing truly ventured, and very little learned. Polarized and polarizing. You want to look away, you can’t look away.” And yet, despite that he said he “came away mostly heartened” because “for the first time in half a century, Congress is taking its role as antitrust regulator seriously, and has undertaken a 13-month investigation that has so far produced 1.3 million documents” (many of which were introduced during the hearing and show what appears to be evidence of anti-competitive conduct from all four companies). Newton said that “in an age where these tech CEOs can feel all but untouchable, Wednesday showed us the beginnings of accountability. The giants were called on the carpet and interrogated. It was overdue, it was messy, and it was unsatisfying. In other words, it was democracy, and I for one was glad to see it.”
Trump said: “If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders. In Washington, it has been ALL TALK and NO ACTION for years, and the people of our Country are sick and tired of it!”
Amazon has a policy barring the practice, but lawmakers like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) focused in on the company’s enforcement of that policy.“Let me ask you, Mr. Bezos, does Amazon ever access and use seller data when making business decisions?” Jayapal asked.Bezos highlighted the company’s policy banning the practice, but said, “I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.” He continued, “We continue to look into that very carefully. I’m not yet satisfied that we’ve gotten to the bottom of it, and we’re going to keep looking at it. It’s not as easy to do as you would think because some of the sources in the [WSJ] article are anonymous.” Documents released by the committee outlined how Amazon executives schemed to undermine the parent company of Diapers.com, which once challenged it in the market for products for new parents. Amazon cut prices on diapers and eventually acquired the company for a fraction of its previous value.
Apple arguably got off the lightest of any of the companies in today’s hearing, if only by volume of questions: Tim Cook got just 35, compared to 59 for Bezos, 62 for Mark Zuckerberg, and 61 for Sundar Pichai. The Markup had a breakdown of the questioning directed to each of the firms. Alec Stapp of the Progressive Policy Institute, a 501(c) think tank, pointed out that some of the criticisms of Facebook’s Instagram purchase were guilty of “hindsight bias.” https://twitter.com/alecstapp/status/1288539558393581568 “Today, everyone thinks it was obvious that Instagram was going to become a huge business. But that’s not what people were saying back in 2012 when Instagram had 30 million users and zero revenue.”
In February 2012, says Wired, Matt Cohler—venture capitalist, Instagram board member, and former Facebook employee—shot Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom a Facebook message to say Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had expressed an interest in buying the photo-sharing app. “Will he go into destroy mode if I say no?” Systrom asked. Cohler replied: “Probably.” Gilad Edelman of Wired gave the hearings a B minus: “With the notable exceptions of Republicans Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, who relentlessly flogged the hobbyhorse of supposed anti-conservative bias on the tech platforms, the committee proved that this is a serious and legitimately bipartisan investigation. But the hearing also illustrated how complicated the cases against these companies are, and how difficult they are to make in the brief soundbites that form the basic currency of American political debate.”
The subcommittee presented internal emails showing that, in 2009, the company deliberately began selling diapers at a loss in order to price Diapers.com out of the market and force the company to accept a takeover—after which Amazon raised diaper prices back up. One email baldly declared that “these guys are our #1 short term competitor. . . . [W]e need to match pricing on these guys no matter what the cost.” As Wired pointed out, “Temporarily selling products at a loss in order to drive out the competition is illegal.” Edelman also noted: “At one point, Jayapal heroically tried to explain how Google’s dominance of the digital advertising ecosystem harms publishers and advertisers. The fact that she cited a 437-page report and a 74-page law review article gives you a sense of how impossible that was to accomplish in five minutes.”
Politico said: “A Congress that has largely soured on Silicon Valley is beginning to figure out how to hold it to account, compiling piles of documents that could back up allegations that the industry’s biggest companies aren’t playing by the country’s competition rules.” However, Tim Wu — Stanford Law professor and the man who coined the term “net neutrality,” said that “The big antitrust policy question that comes out of today’s Tech hearings: how do we, in the end, feel about monopolists cloning their competitors and thereby eating up the ecosystem for themselves? A legitimately unsettled matter in antitrust policy.” Wu also noted with respect to Facebook’s purchase of Instagram that it is “a violation of the Sherman Act to buy out a direct competitor to eliminate them as a danger and protect a monopoly.”ww
Jayapal went after Zuckerberg about the Instagram deal, and the best Zuck could do was to say “I’m not sure what you mean by threaten.” And the Facebook CEO made a significant blunder when he said that he was unaware of a controversy in which the company paid teens to install a VPN app that spied on their activity by using developer access rights. But as Ryan Mac of BuzzFeed noted, it was a widely-followed scandal that led to Apple briefly revoking Facebook’s right to run any of its internal apps on Apple hardware. Mac said while Zuckerberg was testifying he didn’t know about it, a developer who first flagged the issue texted him and said “”There is no way he didn’t just commit perjury. That is complete and utter bullshit that he ‘isn’t familiar’ with Facebook research.”
Geoffrey Fowler of the Washington Post noted the five lies told at the hearing, including “We’re not even that big!” Will Oremus from One Zero noted the same thing, pointing out that Zuckerberg compared Facebook’s market share to the entire global advertising market. Alex Sherman of CNBC said “So Congress thinks there’s a real problem here. But we didn’t learn anything about what they plan to do about it. And that’s probably because the members simply don’t know. It’s likely all four companies will be highly scrutinized for any market pivots or strategic acquisitions moving forward. But scrutiny doesn’t equal action.” Binyamin Appelbaum of the Times — who said that his main takeaway was “there should be a Google hearing and a Facebook hearing and an Apple hearing and an Amazon hearing. The specifics matter, and they’re quite different for each of these companies” (to which Evelyn Douek of Harvard Law School agreed) — noted that one conclusion from the hearing was that “the Justice Department’s antitrust division hasn’t done its job for a very long time.” Among other things, Facebook admitted it cut off Pinterest’s access to its API but not Netflix’s because Pinterest was a competitor. Antitrust expert Hal Singer pointed out that “Discriminatory refusals to deal are illegal under the antitrust laws.”
Kevin Roose of the Times said “Grilled by Lawmakers, Big Tech Turns Up the Gaslight.” Said that “the result was a hearing that, at times, felt less like a reckoning than an attempted gaslighting — a group of savvy executives trying to convince lawmakers that the evidence that their years-long antitrust investigation had dug up wasn’t really evidence of anything. The performance wasn’t particularly convincing. You don’t become a tech mogul by being sloppy or forgetful, and it strains credulity to imagine that these four hyper-competitive, detail-obsessed men — all of whom had many weeks to prepare for Wednesday’s hearing — simply didn’t remember major decisions they’d made.” The Times, like many other news sites, did a live-blog of the hearing along with multiple takes from different writers.
Prospect.org called it “The Triumphant Return of Congress: At Wednesday’s Big Tech hearings, the House Antitrust Subcommittee showed what informed politicians and a real investigation can do.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who ended Wednesday’s hearing by saying some Big Tech companies need to be broken up, told Axios that Facebook in particular lacks significant competitors and should not have been allowed to buy Instagram and WhatsApp. Cicilline chairs the antitrust subcommittee, which has been looking into competition issues in the digital space. “Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged in this hearing that his acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram were part of a plan to both buy a competitor and also maintain his money, power, or his dominance. That’s classic monopoly behavior,” Cicilline said on the “Axios Re:Cap” podcast.
In late February 2012, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emailed his chief financial officer, David Ebersman, to float the idea of buying smaller competitors, including Instagram and Path. “These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” he wrote. “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them. What do you think?”Ebersman was skeptical. “All the research I have seen is that most deals fail to create the value expected by the acquirer,” he wrote back. “I would ask you to find a compelling elucidation of what you are trying to accomplish.” Ebersman went on to list four potential reasons to buy companies and his thoughts on each: neutralizing a competitor, acquiring talent, integrating products to improve the Facebook service, and “other.”It’s a combination of neutralizing a competitor and improving Facebook, Zuckerberg said in a reply. “There are network effect around social products and a finite number of different social mechanics to invent. Once someone wins at a specific mechanic, it’s difficult for others to supplant them without doing something different.”
Of the four companies, CNET noted that Google is in the most imminent danger of antitrust action. The US Department of Justice is investigating Google’s massive digital advertising business, and is expected to file a lawsuit against the search giant this summer. The company is also ensnared in another probe by a coalition of state attorneys general, led by Texas AG Ken Paxton.Lawmakers are mainly focused Google’s on dominance in web search, digital advertising and smartphone software. The company processes around 90% of all online searches in the US. That stranglehold on the market is the foundation of Google’s massive advertising business, which generates almost all of the company’s $160 billion in annual sales. Critics accuse Google of anticompetitive behavior with its ad business because the company owns all sides of the auction system, which could give Google an unfair edge.