Google’s traditionally sparse home page is delivering a surprise today: An ad for the company’s Nexus 7 Android tablet that pops up below the search box. The company has placed text ads for its products on its home page before, but this takes things to a new level, as an image of the Nexus  surfaces on the page with a quick and attention-grabbing animation.

The ad copy reads, “The playground is open. The new $199 tablet from Google.

Given the large number of eyeballs on the Google home page every day, the promotion promises to significantly raise the awareness of the Google tablet, which is going head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle Fire as a lower-priced alternative to Apple’s iPad.

Here’s the bigger question that popped up in my mind, given the various antitrust inquiries into Google in recent years: Is this fair? Taking into account Google’s dominance of the search business, should the company be allowed to leverage that position to benefit its move into a separate market?

Yes, I’ve probably spent too many hours studying Microsoft’s regulatory battles, but at a basic level, there seem to be some parallels here.

I’ve sent a message to Google asking if this home page position is now considered advertising inventory, available for purchase by other companies, as well. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Update:  A Google spokesman says via email, “We occasionally include a link or feature on the Google homepage that points users to a new product or service or a relevant cause. This isn’t new; for example, we ran a link on the homepage promoting a deal for a free Nexus S (with 2-yr plan) last year, and a promotion for Google+ when it came out of field trial as well, in addition to others.”

Here’s what the Google+ promotion looked like on the home page …

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  • Guest

    Of course it’s fair. GeekWire is advertising its Startup Day event inside its own masthead, so I don’t see any problem with Google advertising its iPad mini killer on its home page.

    We generally advise our clients to use Google search boxes and shortcuts so we’re not used to seeing the Google home page anyway. Advert-blocking solutions can also be invoked to suppress this promotional evagination.

    • Todd Bishop

      Funny. Looking forward to debating the ‘relevant market’ with you. :)

      • guest

        Might be even more comical than the “relevant market” the DOJ succeeded in defining for MS, which was ridiculous then and has only been proved more so subsequently.

  • Greg

    Amazon is advertising their Kindle Fire and Amazon Prime services in big bold ads on their home page all the time. How is this different?

    • Todd Bishop

      That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer as it relates to Amazon, but I do know that the rules change for companies when they start to be scrutinized as dominant players in specific markets.

    • guest

      Amazon isn’t the dominant etailer worldwide. They’re not currently under antitrust review in both the US and Europe, not to mention other jurisdictions. They don’t also enjoy a increasingly dominant worldwide position in some other important markets, namely phones and tablets. Their positions in those markets are not under scrutiny for being attempts at illegal maintenance of their defacto search monopoly. Etc. Etc. Etc.

  • Savethebologna

    So I have no right to advertise my own hypothetical book on my own hypothetical website that has nothing to do with books, simply because its viewed by a large chunk of people each day? Of course I am. So Google has every right. If Google owns the swing set, it has every right not to let other kids use it.

  • guest

    Seems like an excellent way for them to get into even more regulatory trouble than they’re already in. The rules for dominant providers are different, as you correctly indicate and as several of the comments here fail to acknowledge. I also think it’s bad strategy for their existing search users. The landing page has already been cluttered with links to Gmail, GDocs, GCalendar, and occasionally G+. Now they’re adding ads for their tablets. If they continue, eventually someone is going to have a shot at grabbing some market share by offering what many consumers want: the spartan search box that helped make Google the leader.

    • Guest

      Since when is Google a near-monopoly in search? More than 30% of Internet users in the U.S. alone use Bing or Yahoo! Let Google do what it wants.

      • guest

        I said “dominant providers”. But to answer your question, they have 90% share in a majority of developed countries. That would generally qualify as a “near-monopoly”. The US is a weaker market for them at “just” 65% share. But even that’s deceptive since Bing/Yahoo haven’t gained any share against Google and MS alone has lost $8 billion trying. In short, if you’re attempting to argue that Google isn’t the dominant provider worldwide or that sustainable competition in the US exists, you’re wrong on both counts.

        • Guest

          The U.S. authorities are the only ones who matter to Google, and in the U.S., Google is under no threat of penalties. Perhaps some E.U. bureaucrats would like to see Google penalized; to them I say, “Use a European search engine instead.”

          Let Google do what they want. Let Microsoft do what they want. Last time I checked, companies didn’t need a green light from the government to rack up $600 billion in market capitalization.

          • guest

            Google does business worldwide. Therefore all national regulator agencies are a concern for them. The FTC is currently reviewing an antitrust case against Google which, should it proceed and be successful, could certainly result in significant penalties. So your assertion there isn’t accurate either. And the DOJ threatened action when Google attempted to partner with Yahoo, making it clear they have already singled Google out for special attention given their dominance. Microsoft wasn’t left to do what it wants and Google hasn’t been so far, and won’t be in the future. It’s simply too dominant and regulators will continue to step in until that changes. Marketcap has nothing to do with this discussion.

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