Consider the irony of Apple trying to poach Google’s search guys

According to DOJ documents, Apple was also trying to sell Google on the idea of working on search “as if we are one company.”

From Mark Gurman and Mark Berman’s “Apple Tried to Hire Away Former Google Search Chief Ben Gomes” posted Thursday by Bloomberg:

In a subpoena sent to Apple this week, the Justice Department asked the Cupertino, California-based technology giant to turn over documents related to efforts to hire Gomes and Giannandrea.

The subpoena demanded all documents starting in Jan. 1, 2010, about attempts to recruit employees from Google, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, Yahoo! Inc. and DuckDuckGo “with expertise or experience in internet search services or search advertising, including: John Giannandrea and Ben Gomes.” Representatives for Apple and Google declined to comment.

The document doesn’t say when Apple attempted to hire Gomes, but any such effort wasn’t successful. Gomes remains at Google in a role running the Alphabet Inc.-owned company’s education efforts. He was search chief until 2020 after taking over for Giannandrea when that executive left for Apple.

Gomes, who joined Google in 1999, is one of the company’s most veteran engineers and a central figure on the search team from the early days. Apple’s attempt to hire Gomes suggests that the company may have held ambitions to more broadly rival Google in search.

The mind drifts back to a Mark Gurman story from October 2020

The U.S. government’s antitrust assault against Google reveals new details about a secretive, multibillion-dollar deal between the internet giant and Apple Inc., the world’s largest technology company…

The U.S. government said Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai met in 2018 to discuss the deal. After that, an unidentified senior Apple employee wrote to a Google counterpart that “our vision is that we work as if we are one company.”

The DOJ also cited internal Google documents that call the Apple search deal a “significant revenue channel” for the search giant and one that, if lost, would result in a “Code Red” scenario. That’s because nearly half of Google search traffic in 2019 came from Apple products, according to the lawsuit.

My take: I’m not sure Pichai’s idea of working as if Google and Apple were one company would have including sharing their best engineers.

19 Comments

  1. Jacob Feenstra said:
    This is what happened:
    Cook: Siri, who should we hire for creating a search engine?
    Siri: Try hiring Gomes and Giannandrea.
    Cook: Thanks, Siri.
    Siri: You’re welcome.

    4
    August 20, 2021
    • Robert Stack said:
      “Try hiring Gomes and Giannandrea.”

      Alas, I don’t think Siri is that smart… 🙂

      1
      August 20, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Consider another irony.

    The DoJ could never find these so-called incriminating emails, if they didn’t have massively scalable search engines.

    2
    August 20, 2021
  3. Gregg Thurman said:
    That’s because nearly half of Google search traffic in 2019 came from Apple products, according to the lawsuit.

    If this were true in 2019, it is more true in 2021/2022.

    If I led Alphabet/Google I’d be very concerned, as Biden’s anti-trust Dynamic Duo, Kanter and Khan, are both unhappy with Google’s default Search position on Apple products. They see the arrangement with Apple as anti-competitive.

    It may take time, if and when the relationship is banned, but Google’s Search revenue is going to take a hit.

    If the DOJ is successful in breaking that relationship, I see Apple purchasing Duck Duck Go and favoring it. Between Apple and Duck Duck Go’s search capabilities I think the combination (mostly because they both subscribe to consumer privacy) will pose a threat to Google search

    6
    August 20, 2021
    • Dan Scropos said:
      I completely agree, Gregg. Any unwinding of the Apple/Google relationship will hurt Google far more than it will Apple. In fact, any rival search engine, which would be a monumental feat for Apple to accomplish, would be a revenue bonanza for Apple. But I suspect they already know that and find Google’s search best in class by a wide margin. At least for now.

      1
      August 20, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @Dan Scropos: “…. Google’s search best in class by a wide margin.”

        Agree! I have enabled “Duck, Duck, Go” as my default search engine, but when I am unable to access needed data I switch to Google and voila! It’s there.

        2
        August 20, 2021
        • Dan Scropos said:
          Jerry, that’s been my exact experience, too. I’ve tried to decouple from Google numerous times. However, before doing so, I’ve run side by side search comparisons, and it’s no contest.

          0
          August 20, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      I doubt the courts would let Apple buy DuckDuckGo in the current “Big Tech Antitrust” environment. But I can certainly see Apple working with DDG on a closer relationship (one that kinda fits the ‘work as if one company’ image from the original article.)

      I’ve been using DDG for maybe 5 years. It’s rare that I go to Google because I can’t find something on DDG, -unless- it’s something owned by Google, e.g. a search for content in books scanned by Google.

      3
      August 20, 2021
      • John Konopka said:
        I suspect that Apple has been building their own search engine for years. They might even be using it as a back end for some of Siri or Spotlight searches. If the DOJ pushes things hard enough Apple might just surface this as an option along side Google. Just like Apple Maps / Google Maps. Some advanced users would immediately opt for Google maps, most wouldn’t care.

        1
        August 20, 2021
      • Alessandro Luethi said:
        That may be true in the US, but here where I live, in Switzerland, in a region where we speak Italian, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia miss the ball very often.

        1
        August 20, 2021
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        I’ve been using DDG for maybe 5 years. It’s rare that I go to Google because I can’t find something on DDG,

        That’s my experience. Google may have the premier search engine, but I wonder how many really need the capabilities of Google.

        0
        August 20, 2021
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      @ Gregg Thurman —

      “I see Apple purchasing Duck Duck Go and favoring it. Between Apple and Duck Duck Go’s search capabilities I think the combination (mostly because they both subscribe to consumer privacy) will pose a threat to Google search.”

      On this point Gregg, I beg to differ.

      While Apple may indeed acquire Duck Duck Go, I hold the belief that most of the world doesn’t currently covet privacy. There are those that do and those that don’t, sure, but when talking the whole pie, most don’t.

      Just as most buyers of tech would otherwise prefer to own Apple products across the board but don’t because they “settle” with good enough. The same reason Android owns the smartphone UB.

      Until the coveting of the privacy stuff trumps the coveting of the “free” stuff, it will be ever such.

      Free is the enemy of privacy because your data is making the payment.

      1
      August 21, 2021
  4. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. Apple was also trying to sell Google on the idea of working on search ‘as if we are one company.’”

    The above allegation seems overreaching, if not overreacting. Apple long has tried to improve and enhance the efficacy of Siri which many of us on this forum have stated needs improvement. It is overwhelming for me to believe 1) that Tim Cook ever would be so naive to participate knowingly in a planned meeting that behaviorally would structure the two entities into a monopoly or 2) that Tim Cook would desire for the two companies to work as one. Apple may partner with a company, but Apple never forgets Apple is Apple and not some amalgam, blend, conflation or combination of any other company than Apple.

    3
    August 20, 2021
  5. Daniel Epstein said:
    Of course the question I have is does any of this actual seem like a reason for an investigation? Is it illegal for Google to have a “significant revenue channel” with Apple? I guess there could be a problem with incentives offered by Google to Apple to maintain the deal? Is it illegal for Apple to poach personnel from other companies. I thought the illegal cooperation to avoid competition among tech companies for employees was settled. Making poaching potentially more acceptable if not completely sanctioned. What is the DOJ really investigating that this information would advance? If Apple is really creating its own search engine then they are certainly taking their sweet time with it.

    1
    August 20, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      there could be a problem with incentives offered by Google to Apple to maintain the deal?

      The problem is going to be Google’s dominant (monopoly?) position in search and then using the wealth that position generates, to secure its position, as the default search engine, on the platform that generates over half of its search revenue.

      1
      August 20, 2021
      • Daniel Epstein said:
        Greg, What I was trying to get across is there are legal deals that even a Monopoly can enter into with its clients but there are limits to what the Monopoly is allowed to do in cutting a deal. The deal can become a transgression of the law if there are stipulations or conditions which would harm other competitors abilities to compete fairly. In this instance this would be a Google Problem as you pointed out. If DuckDuckGo complained that they lost the Apple business to Google due to unfair competition it would be worth examining. Probably not the case but who knows.

        1
        August 20, 2021
  6. Steven Noyes said:
    My take: “our vision is that we work as if we are one company.”

    So what? I have worked on many projects in aerospace where this sentiment is expressed frequently. The idea is we work on the contract as partners and not contractual adversaries. I have heard these exact words multiple times and it does NOT mean price fixing of collusion. It is simply used to say engineering should have a free flow of information on a contract between 2 companies.

    3
    August 21, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      I worked for almost the entire life of the Army Future Combat Systems project, where “One Team” was the slogan. I’ll tell you, from my perspective on the government side, that did NOT work well. Boeing was the 2 ton elephant in the room, and the government PM pretty much gave Boeing whatever they asked for. And they asked for -a lot-. At the end of the day, Boeing did not deliver, and the program was cancelled. (In fairness, the Army’s operational needs changed, but that doesn’t excuse Boeing’s delivery failures against the set of requirements they were given.)

      The part of the program I worked on had the reputation as the exemplar for ‘One Team’, but on each side, the managers fully understood their roles and responsibilities. A couple of times, Govt told Boeing, “We don’t agree, but that is your decision to make.” Some other times, Boeing said, “Huh, maybe you government guys have a point.”

      0
      August 22, 2021

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