Chris Anderson wondered if Obama’s putative pinko anti-trust policy (ie having an anti-trust policy) might interfere with Google’s cross-subsidisation of free services from ad revenues.
Dana Wagner, Google’s chief antitrust council [sic – someone get Chris a free dictionary], replied on the Google policy blog. Sample: “It is true that if a company has a dominant product, it may run afoul of antitrust laws if it ‘ties’ that product to another – for instance, by requiring customers who buy that product to buy another product as well. When a company provides products for free on a stand-alone basis, however, it’s not requiring anyone to buy anything. It may take business away from other companies trying to charge users for similar products, but that’s hardly an antitrust issue.”
Hardly an anti-trust issue? [Adopts Monty Python outraged squeal] Hardly an anti-trust issue? Isn’t unfairly taking business away from other companies the anti-trust issue? Or what, if you artificially reduce the price of your widget to four cents less than is economically viable for independent rivals, that’s anti-competitive, but if you reduce it all the way to zero that’s OK? How does this theory scale? If we only have one newspaper and one car and one brand of cereal to choose from, that’s all fine as long as they’re free because Boris Oligarkov is using his oil money to give us them all free? Hey Dana, I hear Yahoo! is doing free corporate lawyering. Anti much?
I blame Dan Ariely and his ‘free is completely different to cheap’ shtick, via Anderson himself. Free isn’t completely different to cheap, it’s just cheap with an added dash of easy. And I like free stuff as much as the next tech magazine editor, but not if it sucks resources from better stuff.