Google Strong-Arms Smaller Competitor With Data Demands

Lawmakers call the moves anti-competitive behavior

A Roku streaming stick / Getty Images
October 22, 2021

In a move that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called anti-competitive, Google has announced it will remove its YouTube apps from TV streaming app Roku if Roku does not provide Google with special privileges.

At issue are demands made by Google that would change how Roku operates. The demands include a dedicated section of search results for YouTube—something no other Roku partner receives. Roku tells users searching for a movie where to watch it based on their streaming subscriptions; Google is pushing for some searches to route directly to YouTube, even if it means consumers would pay more. And Google wants Roku to provide the valuable search data it receives from users, a demand Roku calls a fundamental threat to business.

Rep. Ken Buck (R., Colo.) called the fight "the latest example of Google's take-no-prisoners business model." Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) said the fight "highlights why we need new laws to prevent dominant digital platforms from abusing their power."

Removing YouTube from Roku would directly entangle consumers in what has so far been an internal contract dispute. Google has come under fire for what critics say is a monopoly over online search. YouTube is the second-most used search engine in the world, behind Google Search itself, with one in four people on Earth using it. Roku says its fight against Google is not just a corporate spat, but another example of powerful tech monopolists manipulating the market in their favor. State attorneys general have brought two lawsuits against Google, and legislation debated on the Hill would bar Google from self-preferencing its own products in search results and potentially even lead to the company's breakup.

Google's demand to access Roku's data on user search is direct pressure on a smaller competitor, as Roku and Google both compete for digital advertising spending and Google's Chromecast competes with the TV platform. But Roku said the fight was not about money: "We have not asked for a single change in the financial terms of our existing agreement."

Google said in April that it never "made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results." But an email shared with the Washington Free Beacon shows that a senior Google executive called a dedicated "shelf" for YouTube search results "a must" for the company.

Google said, "Roku has once again chosen to make unproductive and baseless claims rather than try to work constructively with us."