The European Parliament (EP) is considering a motion that would make Google unbundle its search engine from its other products. It appears that Google’s 90% market share in Europe (compared to only 68% in the US) is irking lawmakers who would like to see more competition develop among search engines.
The EP is therefore preparing a non-binding resolution that proposes splitting Google’s European search engine operations from the rest of its business. In doing this, it is hoped that Google’s dominance will be reined in. This proposed measure doesn’t mention Google by name, but its intent is unmistakable on the heels of “the right to be forgotten” case and other machinations about the tech giant’s reach. European politicians have long sought to curb Google’s power.
Before anyone gets too alarmed by this prospect, it should be noted that the EP lacks the power to breakup Google in particular, and companies in general. Still, Google for one is taking this matter seriously, as it has been an anti-trust target for the past four years. It is argued that Google skews its search results to favor its own properties like Google+ reviews, even though they might offer lower quality search results.
Google argues that it doesn’t promote its own products at the expense of its competitors; it just tries to give the best results and give the most direct answers to any questions. Google chief exec and chairman Eric Schmidt said,
“Put simply, we created search for users, not websites,” in a dig at his competitors frothing at the mouth over possible legislative relief, “and that’s the motivation behind all our improvements over the last decade.”
Google not only is being criticized by competitors, most notably Microsoft. It also faces stern censure in Europe about everything from its tax policies to privacy issues, and is still said to be reeling from the “right to be forgotten” ruling. The feeling prevails that Google has simply grown too large and has garnered too much market share for there to be competitiveness, hence the effort by parliament to level the playing field.
Google has attempted to counter the angst, and lays the blame on the anti-US fervor which permeates much of Europe over the US spying tactics. As a result, it feels that it has become the poster child for big, information gathering organizations which have been sullied by governmental spying activities.
But protestations aside, the EP legislative initiative is likely to move forward. Andras Schwab, the German Christian Democrat lawmaker who co-sponsored the measure ( with Spain’s Ramon Tremosa), told Reuters it was “very likely” it would be adopted, as both the center-right group, the largest in parliament, and the main center-left group supported it.
Proponents of the legislation were quick to point out, that in their opinion, Google had failed to remedy shortcomings discussed during the antitrust investigative period, and thereby continued “to suppress competition to the detriment of European consumers and businesses,” according to Schwab and Tremosa. In the event of no improvement in the situation, they opined that,
“In case the proceedings against Google carry on without any satisfying decisions and the current anti-competitive behavior continues to exist, a regulation of the dominant online web search should be envisaged.”
The areas they would like to see addressed include opening up of avenues which won’t penalize advertisers from moving away from Googles own Adwords system, and also recommended the end of preferential treatment in listings over rival links. Further, it should desist in shutting out search advertising competitors on websites where it delivers search advertisements.
Some, however, are not very sanguine about Google’s efforts to reform. David Wood, chief counsel for a trade group representing Microsoft and other rivals said, “We do not believe Google has any intention of holding themselves to account on these proposals.” We shall see how this all plays out in the coming months.
It just might be that Google will have to amend its business practices, as it seems it cannot get out of the EU’s crosshairs. The general negative feelings toward the US are not helping either, but there is an even greater motivation for the European Parliament- distracting voters from the deplorable economic plight of the EU and its stifling unemployment and economic morass.
Google, a very successful, foreign-based entity provides a worthy distraction and is a convenient whipping boy. Should there be yet another regulation to add to the numbing bureaucracy that already exists? What’s your take?