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Resisting a break-up
Naturally cautious, Pichai, 48, has the sort of non-confrontational style that makes him well suited to the job at hand — a contrast to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who made a virtue of their iconoclastic disregard for the expected ways of doing things.
The antitrust challenges piling up against the company, with politicians hinting that they may even try to push for a break-up, provide the most immediate threat. The accelerated switch to digital forms of communication and collaboration during the pandemic, he suggests, may have boosted Google’s economic heft, but it has hardly been alone: “It’s one thing if there’s only one company which is doing well, but that’s not what we are seeing.”
Pichai’s arguments have the well-honed style of a company that has been on the receiving end of antitrust challenges for years — even if U.S. regulators have been late to join the action. One of his main points is that Google’s technology platforms bring broad benefits in the tech world.
Of the Android mobile operating system, for instance, he says: “We are providing a software platform to literally hundreds of handset manufacturers around the world.” Yet the antitrust complaints now pending against the company accuse it of dominating those same informal technology networks, sucking out a disproportionate share of the profits.
“The formula with Google is, they start with open [platforms] and then become closed, they jack up the rent,” says Luther Lowe at Yelp, the local search company that has been campaigning against Google’s tactics for a decade. Android has “increased the chance for developers to write apps,” he says, while at the same time sucking most of the mobile web traffic into Google’s search engine.