European Parliament Takes Aim at Google

European Parliament Takes Aim at Google

Wesley MurchisonWednesday,3 December 2014

The Snap:

Google, the all-American technology success story, is under attack by the European Parliament (EP). Well, symbolically, anyway. The Parliament passed a resolution to break up the tech company by a vote of 384 in favor to 174 against. The problem is the European Union (EU) doesn’t have the authority to dismantle a U.S. company.

The Download:

The impression is that the EP is trying to put pressure on the European Commission (EC), the executive branch of the EU, to take some antitrust actions against the Internet giant. The Commission has been investigating Google for antitrust practices more than four years now. The investigation extended beyond the term of the European Commissioner for Competition who started the investigation in 2010. Joaquín Almunia relinquished the position, and the Google probe, to Margrethe Vestager in November.

Much to the relief of Google, Margrethe Vestager communicated in multiple statements to the press that she was in favor of a slow approach to reviewing the claims against Google. If true, the quickness of EP’s passage of the resolution might be as much a maneuver against Margrethe Vestager as it is a shot across Google’s bow.

The motion instructs the EC to mandate Google unbundle its other commercial services from its search engine. The EP and other critics see Google’s placement of commercial services above search results for purchasing a hotel room or airfare as unfair. Google captures 90 percent of web search traffic in Europe, according to VentureBeat. The EP sees Google using its size to expand into other markets as an anti-competitive threat that costs Europe’s economy a significant financial sum. The EU is trying to reform Europe’s information services to create a digital single market for all of the EU. They estimate the reform will bring in €260 billion a year. According to Vlad Savov at The Verge, this isn’t so much an act of anti-Americanism or an inherent hatred of big business. “The European Union doesn’t perceive Google as a villain so much as a clumsy giant that’s having deleterious effects on other web businesses,” said Savov, adding that, “they see Google’s ability to manipulate search results and give preference to its own services as an imbalance to be corrected.”

The aggressiveness of unbundling other commercial services from Google’s search results isn’t likely to happen so much as set the stage for a compromise. Google is eager to avoid Microsoft’s fate in the 90s when it was sanctioned for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. A few have even floated the idea that Google only need offer other search engines as options in Android or Chrome OS. However, the language of the resolution clearly targets all search engines. Microsoft also will not be able to promote its services on Bing’s search results.

The worst-case scenario is that Europe will forbid Google from placing Google Maps, Shopping, Books or Flights in the search results for Europeans. Or at the very least, redesign the page layout so that there is even more room for non-Google related search results.

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Hat Tips:

VentureBeat, The Verge, Image Credit: Flickr

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