Then there are the antitrust probes. As Google has grown larger and its commanding share of the Web search market has solidified, it has drawn ever closer scrutiny from antitrust regulators, both in the United States and abroad. The Federal Trade Commission has probed Google over its purchase of mobile ad provider AdMob, its acquisition of travel industry software maker ITA, and an ad-sharing partnership with Yahoo. The first two deals were approved; the last was not. The agency now says it is ready to press forward with a more formal antitrust investigation, citing questions about Google's search and advertising businesses. European regulators launched a similar investigation in November.
Individuals can't innovate
None of this bodes well if you're a Google staffer with big ambitions. Famously, Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their hours working on what they think will most benefit the company, irrespective of their regular duties. But as Google has grown more cautious and its management structure has grown more rigid, 20 Percent Time projects are less and less likely to become full-fledged products. Larger development teams have become the norm, and decisions require countless rounds of meetings and conferences. In 2009, former CEO Eric Schmidt observed, "There was a time when three people at Google could build a world-class product and deliver it, and it is gone."
Little wonder, then, that Google has gradually scaled back its commitment to 20 Percent Time. In 2008, Valleywag reported that managers were curbing the practice when mission-critical projects fell behind schedule. This year Google shut down Google Labs, a hub that allowed the public to experiment with 20 Percent projects and give feedback.
Google insists that the death of Google Labs won't mean the end of 20 Percent Time. Yet a neutered, ineffectual 20 Percent program may be the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, Google has burdened itself with an engineering staff that operates at just 80 percent efficiency, given its growing reluctance to experiment. On the other, engineers whose personal projects go nowhere may resent that their entrepreneurial instincts are wasted at Google. Combine that resentment with inefficiency, micromanagement, overwork, underutilization, and a rising corporate bureaucracy, and they may ultimately seek work elsewhere.
Wars of attrition
Former CEO Eric Schmidt flatly denies any brain drain at Google, insisting the company's attrition rate remained constant throughout his tenure. But that stability is hard won; in recent years Google has offered hefty raises and six-figure bonuses to stave off its competitors' overtures. In November 2010, it increased its entire pay scale by 10 percent.
Where Googlers go when they leave is no surprise. Many of them turn up at its closest competitors. Microsoft is reportedly engaged in an all-out hiring war with the search giant, as is Facebook, which has poached at least 142 Google staffers, including its top chef. Still others find new homes at startups.