Google, along with 3 other major tech companies (Amazon, Facebook and Apple) appeared before the U.S. Congress on 29th July 2020, and received a mouthful for the flagrant breach of antitrust laws. The company is now facing probes into its practices for a scent of monopolistic tendencies, but a report from The MarkUp suggests that the tech giant is ready, and has apparently been ready for years. According to this report, the company has been advocating the use of certain words over others, to ensure that whenever antitrust bodies come for them, they are ready.
Thus, all employees are advised to avoid certain words like “market”, “barriers to entry” and “network effects” and substitute them with other, more jovial sounding words. Thus, market becomes “industry,” “space,” “area”; barriers to entry is replaced by “challenges” and network effect is changed to ““valuable to users.”
Network effects, for those who are unaware of the term, is used to describe how value is added to a company once it gains more users. To set an example, any company that claims that it has got strong network effects can be scrutinised for gaining a dominant share through exploitation of network effects, which can then warrant that the company’s power is somehow reduced. And that isn’t something that Google wants.
Thus, the company has been making sure that any written communication between company employees, especially when talking about company policies, is done in a manner that eschews the use of inflammatory words.
A document named “Five Rules of Thumb for Written Communications,” reads, “Words matter. Especially in antitrust law.” Moreover, for a company like Alphabet that “gets sued a lot, and we have our fair share of regulatory investigations,” using the right words becomes very important.
Thus, Google has one advice for every employee, “Assume every document will become public.”
Now, while this may look like a mere advice to employees, the company takes it very seriously and according to a document named “Global Competition Policy,” this applies to not just company employees and interns but temps, vendors, and contractors as well.
Moreover, the implementation is more rigorous than one would think, for even seemingly innocuous sounding phrases have been weeded out. For example, sentences like “Get Ahead of competitors” has to be replaced with something like “Improve our product/services.” Writing something like “Cut off competitor’s access to target” has been considered bad, and must be substituted for “Integrate target with Google.”
According to company officials, this isn’t something new, and has been place for years now. Julie Tarallo McAlister said in an email to the Verge that the training documents are “completely standard competition law compliance trainings that most large companies provide to their employees” and have been in place for more than a decade. “We instruct employees to compete fairly and build great products, rather than focus or opine on competitors.”
All of these practices, if they had been implemented in a robust manner, will help Google evade the scrutiny of antitrust authorities, which have been at the company’s tail for some time now. For example, the Google Fitbit deal has garnered the attention of various regulators, and is being investigated right now. If the documents regarding these probes are found to be free of monopolistic words, it can help Google achieve a clean chit from the authorities.