It looked like Google had taken another stride towards dominance in the broadband business on Monday, when reports emerged that it had acquired WiFi hotspot provider ICOA Inc. for $400 million. With ICOA Inc., Google would get a network of 1,500 broadband hotspots in 45 states. Those connections would join the 4,000 WiFi hotspots that Google agreed to sponsor back in September, as well as the budding but ambitious Google Fiber network that’s just getting off the ground in Kansas City. By midday Monday, though, “sources” at Google were denying the report and ICOA Inc.‘s CEO flat out said it was “NOT TRUE” his. But there’s a reason everybody believed that it was.
Google has become such a world-crushing beast of a company that journalists don’t even ask questions any more. The bogus report on the ICOA Inc. takeover can be traced back to a single press release that appeared on PRWeb and was handily devoured and regurgitated by tech blogs and national news organizations alike within minutes of its release. Everybody from TechCrunch to the Associated Press took the press release as fact. (Props to those who have since published mea culpas, it’s understandable that people kept reporting on it once it got such a big groundswell.) If you look back at the initial reports, you won’t see any evidence that the bloggers or reporters actually called Google or ICOA Inc. Why would they? Google’s acquired over 100 companies in the past decade, its biggest being Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. What’s so surprising about the company snatching up a WiFi provider for less than a billion dollars. After all, isn’t this the company that’s supposed to be taking over America’s airwaves, one city at a time?
But alas, it was all a scam, most likely cooked up by a fraudster looking to make a quick buck off of the boost that news of being acquired by Google would give to ICOA Inc.‘s stock. It worked, too. The WiFi provider’s stock started out at $0.0004 on Monday morning but jumped 400 percent after the press release circulated. Again, nobody’s really sure who wrote the press release, or how they convinced PR Web to run it without confirmation. It’s clearly a journalism fail — simply rewriting press releases is the biggest blogging no-no — but it’s also a sign that our collective cognitive dissonance about Google’s unchecked growth is getting worse.
Google is a very big and powerful company. Despite an “increasing amount of scrutiny” from government regulators who suspect that the company might be violating antitrust laws, everyone’s just sitting back and watching Google become even bigger and more powerful. After starting out as Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Stanford research project, an algorithm that could help you quickly find things on the Internet, in the 1990s, Google has grown into a $218 billion multinational corporation. Google now controls not only how we search the Internet (Google Search) but also how we communicate with each other (Gmail) and how we entertain ourselves (YouTube).
Google’s also show that it can take over entire industries. When it decided to break into the mobile business by launching the Android operating system in 2007, few thought that it could keep up with up power players like Apple and Motorola. Fast forward to 2012, and Google controls over 60 percent of the mobile phone market. It’s trounced Apple’s iOS as the most popular mobile platform, and of course, it straight up bought Motorola. And now, it looks like Google will do the same to the broadband Internet business with Google Fiber. It would’ve gotten a leg up by purchasing a WiFi provider like ICOA Inc., and that’s likely one of the reasons why nobody was surprised by the fake news that it had made the acquisition.
Consumers deserve more due diligence from journalists than they’ve been given. Let’s be thankful that at least a couple of reporters thought to actually call the companies to confirm the initial press release. Because if anything’s going to keep a behemoth like Google from monopolizing the web, it’s asking questions and demanding answers. Don’t count on anybody else — especially the government — doing it for you.