With Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama predicting a “split decision” as voting began today in 24 state primaries and caucuses, it is noteworthy, and perhaps not all that surprising, that of the remaining candidates, the Illinois senator has talked most about technology policy. In November, Obama visited Google headquarters where he outlined his support for such regulation as network neutrality, a Google policy favorite because such regulation would serve the company’s business plan very well. I’ll grant the candidate some slack because Google is an important employer in an important state, but I would caution him against getting to gushy about the search engine giant. During a panel discussion on the candidates’ positions at last week’s State of the Net conference, Julius Genachowski, Obama’s policy advisor for technology, mentioned Google no less than three times in a five-minute overview. Google’s apparently politically hip enough that Democratic candidates and their staff can toss its name around with such abandon (unlike other multi-billion-dollar corporations such as AT&T, Microsoft or Comcast). Considering that Obama has promised “to step up review of merger activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers that are likely to harm consumer welfare, while quickly clearing those that do not,” it won’t help to get too palsy with Google, which faced its own antitrust questions with DoubleClick and now appears to be running interference to “help” its primary search engine competitor, Yahoo, push back on Microsoft’s buyout offer. So far, Google seems content to play within the boundaries of the market. It would be disappointing to see them turn to the government in an attempt to protect their market position. Obama and his campaign staff should put the company at arms length.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.