Google are in such a position of power that it is hard to imagine them ever being seriously challenged by a competitor. But being one of the world’s most valuable brands (fourth behind Amazon, Apple and Microsoft at the last count) doesn’t come without its problems.
That includes facing up to the prospect of a massive antitrust lawsuit being brought against them by US Attorney General William Barr, in addition to 50 American states and territories also launching a similar investigation.
It seems if a competitor can’t take Google down a peg or two, the US government may take matters into its own hands. Where this will end is hard to tell at the moment, but we look how Google managed to grow into the company it is today, the challenges it faces and how Apple could end up riding to the rescue.
How Google became the company they are today
It’s easy to forget that Google hasn’t always been the dominant search engine. The very first search tool came into existence in 1990, going by the name of ‘Archie’, which crawled File Transfer Protocol (FTP) archives to build an index of files that could be downloaded.
This was only a year before Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web, which would go on to revolutionise life as we know it.
A few years later, search engines like Infoseek, AtlaVista, Lycos and Yahoo arrived to up the search engine ante. Lycos is surprisingly still going, as is Yahoo, which was once the most popular browser around, and sensing the threat to their position even tried, and failed, to buy Google on two occasions.
Before Google became ‘a thing’ there was ‘BackRub’, a search engine created by Google gurus Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Launched in 1996, it was a research project that gave authority to backlinks, rewarding mentioned sites with better search results.
Ask Jeeves – now functioning ask Ask.com – also came into existence the same year, with an emphasis placed on encouraging people to ask questions using common, everyday language.
Google officially arrived in 1998, looking to change the way data was indexed and delivered, with AdWords following two year’s later (this remains their main source of revenue) and Google Images launching in 2001.
Google News was introduced to aggregate articles into customisable pages, allowing us to pick and choose the news we consume all in one place – over 50,000 sources are now used to collate content every day.
2004 saw Gmail rolled out to employees, before going public in 2007, delivering targeted ads to our inboxes along with 1GB of storage. One year later Google Maps saw A-Z maps ditched forever, as we could now always find our way from A to B thanks to GPS.
YouTube had only been running for a year before Google snapped it up in 2006 for $1.65 billion – instantly giving Google online video traffic. It turned out to be one of their smartest acquisitions as YouTube became the cornerstone of video content online.
Doubeclick was purchased for $3.1 billion in 2007, further cementing their online ad empire. Google Chrome arrived a year later and over the past decade the company have also made huge investments into electric and self-driving vehicles, Google Glass, artificial intelligence and Google Assistant.
The threat to Google’s position of strength
Looking at the stats today, in 2019 Google held 73.1% share of search advertising and 31.6% market share of overall digital ad spending. As recently as July 2020, 87% of desktop searches were conducted via Google, wiping the floor with the likes of Microsoft’s Bing which can only claim 6%.
Domination of any market usually leads to allegations of operating a monopoly, creating an unfair playing field for others to grab the piece of the pie. Google are no different in that respect, and the looming presence of Barr backed by the authority of the Department of Justice is not one to be taken lightly. Every Attorney General wants a big case to substantiate their time in office and it appears Barr wants Google to be his prized scalp.
But Google are far from the first company to face this sort of political intervention, with the likes of IBM and Microsoft also previously facing antitrust lawsuits. Microsoft were defeated and eventually settled with the government, with Bill Gates stepping down as CEO short while after.
Google could still be afforded the same restolution, but in the current political and economic climate certainties are hard to come by for any business, regardless of size.
Could Apple be Google’s saviour?
Rumours are growing that Apple are about to enter the search engine market and if true it could prove to be the unlikely saviour of Google amidst the building torrent of lawsuits being pitched against them.
Back in 2015, Apple released details about an in-house web crawler called Applebot that was being used to power services like Spotlight and Siri on iOS and OS X platforms. However, more recently, tech experts have noted a big increase in Applebot crawling websites they are involved with.
This has been the case for many companies, large and small, with UK-based ecommerce companies like Victoria Plum receiving over 1,000 hits a day.
Applebot works in much the same way as other web crawlers, scanning the internet to identify how each website should be ranked based on its own algorithm.
Recent changes were made to the Applebot support document, although the tech giant have not made any official statement regarding future plans beyond using it to improve the likes of Spotlight and Siri.
Of course, Apple already have Safari in place on all their devices, although this is a web browser, rather than a search engine. If they decided to roll out a search engine onto all their devices across the world, this would mean 1.4 billion active users having access to the tool, instantly making it the second largest search engine in the world.
This would also likely mean a challenge to Google’s stranglehold over advertising, likely reducing their revenue and any possible ‘threat’ the Department of Justice believe they pose. However, Apple may also be biding their time to see how the legal battle plays out before entering into such a hotly debated market.
Apple Bot UserAgent
If you want to check out to see if you Apple has been crawling your site, you can look for their useragent in your server logs, Version 2 of our Server Log Analyser Tool will have a whole section dedicated to Apple Bot.
Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_15_5) AppleWebKit/605.1.15 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/13.1.1 Safari/605.1.15 (Applebot/0.1; +http://www.apple.com/go/applebot)
If you don’t want Apple crawling your site (and I am not sure why you wouldn’t) then you can simply block it in your robots.txt file like any other Search Engine Bot.