It is hard to legislate when the matter at hand is constantly changing. This is the case of the recent recommendation of the European Parliament (EP) to introduce regulation of internet search and break up Google.
It is not the first time public authorities break up companies: they did it in 1911 with Standard Oil Co. Inc. But that decision was more than a century ago and was about a company that was controlling too many “atoms” (actually molecules) that people were interested in.
In the second half of the ’90s public authorities realised that Microsoft was controlling too much of the “bit processing” going around. Luckily in 2000 Microsoft escaped Standard Oil’s fate and was “just” forced to give users the possibility to select a different browser than Internet Explorer in their Windows OS. This obligation only applied to Microsoft and not to other “bit processing” companies.
In the current case we are dealing with a company that controls, in EP’s opinion, too many “information bits” so why not breaking it up? As users can already select other search engines, a Microsoft-like solution is probably not the right one.
There is a solution: if we define a standard format that search engines must use when presenting search results to users, there would be room for intelligent software to nitpick exactly the information of interest, using not just the output of one, but of many search engines.
Of course this obligation should not be imposed on a single company –why punish a company for its success? – but on all companies running search services.
So the conclusion, valid for a world of information handling companies, is: don’t break up companies (left-hand side of the figure), force them to expose interfaces to the information they handle (right-hand side of the figure).