It’s official: On October 20, the Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to “stop Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices.”
From making itself the default search engine on billions of mobile devices to then making its own products “undeletable” on those devices, Google has for years “used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising,” reports the DOJ’s filing.
The complaint also, interestingly, acknowledges that Google has learned to “choose its words carefully to avoid antitrust scrutiny” – a sinister claim that is well-supported by evidence. Indeed, internal documents recently leaked to The Markup reveal the very calculated ways in which Google’s parent company, Alphabet, trains its sizeable workforce to skirt around the issue of antitrust in emails, IMs, conversations, and other written forms of communication.
“Alphabet gets sued a lot, and we have our fair share of regulatory investigations,” reads one of the documents. “Assume every document will become public.”
Presumably, the writer of that document didn’t expect that document to go public… but now it has, and Google’s shameless HR cynicism is right out in the open for us – and any antitrust regulator – to dissect. How handy!
One of the training documents, dubbed “Communicating Safely,” tries to help employees distinguish between “good words” and “bad words” that might cause a federal investigator’s ears to perk up.
The word “market,” for instance, is “bad”! Now, why would Google expect its staff of more than 100,000 people – as well as any number of contractors – to not use a word as common and innocuous-seeming as “market”?
Google doesn’t really offer any explanation. So, we have taken the liberty of doing so for them, in our handy annotated explainer guide for the naughty antitrust-related words you cannot say at Google. (Every time you do, it is a nickel in Sundar’s swear jar – the proceeds of which fund his Uber rides from the airport to Congressional hearings.)
Think of this guide to “Communicating Safely” as what Google wishes it could say, if only honesty were part of its DNA…
Google BAD: “Market”
Google GOOD: “Industry,” “Space,” or “Area”
Googlers’ internal communications should never include phrases like, “Yelp is a leader in the search market with a XX% market share.” It makes us sound like we care about stuff like that. Everyone knows that we’re just an altruistic innovator for the common good, not a ruthless titan who slays would-be market competitors with the blade of our trillion-dollar sword. We can help keep it that way by instead saying things like, “Yelp is a leader in the search space…” So open! So inclusive. And, it kind of makes us think of astronauts. Who doesn’t love astronauts?
Google BAD: “Dominant”
Google GOOD: “Successful”
So, you beat the stuffing out of your coworker at the department ping-pong tournament and you want to crow about it on the ol’ Slack channel. We feel and honor your achievement. But do not say, “I dominated that no-good, nine-time former champion, Jerry!” – no matter how awesome it feels. Instead, try something more uplifting – like, “My efforts to defeat that no-good, nine-time former champion, Jerry, were a resounding success!” Now, you invite us ALL to celebrate with you – and you invite those no-good regulators to investigate somewhere else! Lol!
Google BAD: “Barriers to entry”
Google GOOD: “Challenges”
Sometimes a company’s product, like Google’s search engine, is just so darn good that it puts up what you might call “barriers to entry” for other companies looking to enter the same market… I mean, space. In our case, any extremely hypothetical and not real at all “barriers to entry” would ONLY be a result of how awesome our search engine is and would have NOTHING whatsoever to do with us crushing competition through acquisitions and mergers. But ON THE OFFHAND CHANCE some silly regulator thinks otherwise, we try to throw them off the scent by saying things like, “Google is so totally rad, we pose challenges to other companies looking to enter our space.” Challenges = FUN. Barriers = NOT FUN.
Google BAD: “Network effects”
Google GOOD: “Valuable to users”
Did you see those 2012 emails Zuckerberg sent? Did you? They did not bode well for the coming Facebook antitrust defense – and it is in no small part because he used the term “network effects” to describe how social media platforms can reach a point where it is “difficult for others to supplant them.” Even a smart-sounding word like “supplant” cannot detract from how stupid this was of poor Mark. He gave away the game with “network effects,” which are essentially economic lingo for “the point of no return”. Once you pass that point, you are unstoppable. But you don’t want to admit to passing it, Mark, you silly, unfeeling robot-man! As for Google, we passed the line in our marke… space a long time ago, but we never, ever admit it. We don’t have “network effects.” WE are “valuable to our users.” Mark = DUMB. Sundar = SMART!
Google BAD: “Unique”
Google GOOD: “New,” “Alternative”
Look, we are humble here at Google. All we want to be is a quiet little trillion-dollar company that, sure, offers a platform that alters elections and compromises public health and enables hate speech and helps fuel genocide once in a while, but otherwise flies under the radar. We are not special, and our offerings certainly do not set us apart – because, among other things, that would make it difficult to compete with us (and we definitely, DEFINITELY don’t want that). So, don’t ever brag to your coworker about how “unique” some upcoming product launch is. Instead, call it what it, quite literally, is: “New”. “Here we go again,” you might say in your text to that no-good Jerry – “just making another NEW internet thingy in a field where anyone can make a new internet thingy and be on a totally equal playing field with us. Ho-hum, nothing to see here!”
We conclude our explainer of Google’s “Communicating Safely” training guide with a question: Are Google’s workers trained to avoid using the “p” word, as well? That’s “piracy” for those of you who aren’t regulars. It doesn’t appear in any of the available documents, but it probably should if Google really wants to cover all its bases.
After all, this is the same company whose own executives called its global video behemoth, YouTube, a “pirate” site. It is the same company that uses the DMCA as a shield to deflect responsibility for the billions of dollars in piracy it enables, while simultaneously denying creatives the proper tools to clean it up themselves. And, it is the same company that ignores copyright takedown notices, despite being legally obligated to deal with them.
Google employees looking to avoid antitrust should also definitely avoid using the word “piracy” – because there is really only one way to get away with it at this scale, and investigators know it.
You have to be a monopoly.