As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful

As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
In this Jan. 15, 2004, file photo Google co-founders Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin pose for a photo at their company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Twenty years after Page and Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Twenty years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more.

That resounding success now has regulators and lawmakers around the world questioning whether the company has become too powerful as its ubiquitous services vacuum up sensitive information about billions of people hooked on its products.

Google's search engine remains entrenched as the internet's main gateway, and its digital advertising business is on pace to generate about $110 billion in revenue this year. Much of that revenue now flows through Google's Android operating system, which powers 80 percent of the world's smartphones. Google also runs the biggest video site in YouTube, the most popular web browser in Chrome, the top email service in Gmail and the maps that most people use to get around.

Not bad for a company that started 20 years ago Friday with an initial investment of $100,000. Google and its sibling companies operating under the umbrella of Alphabet Inc. are now worth $800 billion.

Although Google wouldn't comment for this story, the company has repeatedly pointed out that its mostly free products are so widely used because people like them.

As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
In this Nov. 11, 2000, file photo Google's co-founders, CEO Larry Page, left, and Chairman Sergey Brin, rest on bean bags at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Twenty years after Page and Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Randi Lynn Beach, File)

Google's success often draws comparisons with Microsoft.

By 1998, the year Google started, U.S. regulators had become so concerned about Microsoft's power through its Windows operating system that they had begun to explore a forced breakup. Although Microsoft remained intact, the multiyear battle with the U.S. government and other disputes with European regulators hobbled and distracted Microsoft, helping to propel the rise of Google and Apple.

Google is now confronting the same potential fate.

As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
In this Jan. 15, 2004, file photo Google co-founders Larry Page, bottom, and Sergey Brin are seen at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Twenty years after Page and Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

"Google is in the government's crosshairs," said Ken Auletta, who was given inside access to the company while writing his 2009 book, "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It." ''This company once had a certain glow to it, but it is losing its halo."

Just this past week, Google raised hackles in Congress by refusing to send Page or its current CEO, Sundar Pichai, to a hearing on Russian manipulation of internet services to sway U.S. elections. Congressional officials left an empty chair while top executives from Facebook and Twitter appeared. Offended lawmakers derided Google as "arrogant."

The European Commission already has imposed fines totaling $7.8 billion after concluding the company had unfairly used its to highlight its own services and illegally bundled together its products in Android.

As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
In this Aug. 19, 2004, file photo the sign outside the Nasdaq Marketsite shows a picture of Goggle staff attending the opening of the Nasdaq market in New York. Twenty years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Google has denied any wrongdoing, but that hasn't discouraged European regulators from looking into other possible abuses. U.S. President Donald Trump and some U.S. regulators are now raising the possibility of opening new investigations into Google's business and privacy practices five years after the Federal Trade Commission decided the company was mostly complying with the laws.

It all paints a picture of a that may spend the next decade fighting to protect the empire it built during its first two decades.

  • As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
    In this April 17, 2007, file photo exhibitors of the Google company work in front of a illuminated sign at the industrial fair Hannover Messe in Hanover, Germany. Twenty years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)
  • As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
    In this Sept. 2, 2008 file photo, Google co-founders Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page talk during a new conference at Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Twenty years after Page and Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
  • As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
    In this Feb. 20 2013, file photo, Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears a Google Glass device in San Francisco. Twenty years after Larry Page and Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
  • As Google turns 20, questions over whether it's too powerful
    In this May 15, 2013, file photo Larry Page, Google's co-founder and chief executive, speaks during the keynote presentation at Google I/O 2013 in San Francisco. Twenty years after Page and Sergey Brin set out to organize all of the internet's information, the search engine they named Google has morphed into a dominating force in smartphones, online video, email, maps and much more. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

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