Commentary: Americans trust Amazon, Google more than they trust the federal government

For the past three years the American public has trusted Amazon and Google more than they trust the federal government. Despite that higher level of trust, the federal government is suing Google and Amazon.

According to new data from the Center for Growth and Opportunity, almost half of voting Americans trust Google (42%) and Amazon (46%) with their data, while only 1 in 4 voting Americans trust the federal government (26%) with their data.

These two companies have nearly double the rates of trust compared to the federal government.

To be sure, Google and Amazon are not without fault. Amazon’s marketplace includes many thousands of unsafe and counterfeit products that the company seems unable to completely tackle. Google, best known for its search engine, can make seemingly arbitrary and sudden decisions that harm small and medium-sized businesses.

Despite these faults, these companies remain immensely popular. According to SimilarWeb, 90% of searches first take place on Google. “Google” has become a verb. When it comes to Amazon, according to the most recent estimate, nearly 168 million people worldwide are Amazon Prime members, with users in the U.S. currently paying $14.99 a month or $139 annually for membership ($69 annually if you are a student). That’s not even counting non-Prime members who use Amazon for shopping, streaming TV or listening to music.

It’s puzzling then that the less-trusted federal government, along with most states, are suing to transform the more trusted Google search, make Amazon Prime more expensive or even to break up Amazon.

Earlier this month, the biggest antitrust trial since Microsoft’s trial in 1998 began. At issue is Google’s search dominance, with the federal government (the Department of Justice) and attorneys general from 38 states (including Maine) asserting that Google acted anticompetitively by paying for exclusivity deals with Apple or favoring Google search on Android (owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company) devices. There are many issues at stake, but the underlying assumption is that consumers wouldn’t use Google search at such high rates but for these arrangements.

Meanwhile, the federal government and 17 states (including Maine) are accusing Amazon, via the Federal Trade Commission, of overcharging sellers, stifling competition and making Prime membership too difficult to cancel. The FTC on Tuesday filed its much-anticipated lawsuit aimed at potentially breaking up the whole of Amazon. This was a lawsuit expected ever since Lina Khan became chair of the FTC, a chairmanship that has been credited to her famous 2017 article in the Yale Law Journal, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”

These suits will all negatively affect consumers’ experience using these platforms. They also reflect a mismatch between the opinions of the American public and those in these two government agencies. Were the federal government to be successful in these suits, these services could become more expensive whether in terms of cost or inconvenience. When given a choice, consumers usually choose Google. Speculatively, were the government to succeed in their Google suit, users could be forced to choose a search engine option while setting up a new phone. History tells us they’ll choose Google anyway.

Amazon’s size has allowed it to economize in storing and delivering goods, passing along those savings to consumers. Those savings, array of items and delivery ease are especially important for lower-income and marginalized groups, like the physically disabled who rely on Amazon deliveries for necessities. If Prime became more expensive to use because of government fines or penalties or Amazon were broken up into smaller companies, then consumers would be worse off.

It is important and the proper role of the federal government to oversee and ensure the largest companies in the world aren’t harming consumers by self-interested choices. However, it’s this very self-interest that’s been a boon to customers all over the U.S. and the world. In these cases, the less trustworthy federal government should carefully consider the costs before affecting the companies Americans use and trust even more.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.