Google, Prepare Yourself For An EU Beating

This is huge. Trust me, this really is gigantic news. In the case of regulator versus Internet giant, you really can't get any bigger than the EU taking on Google.

And let's not mince words here. Google will have to change the way it operates, and will likely pay huge fines when all the dust is settled. It has been a very long time coming, but the EU carrot that was dangled in front of Google for several years is today to be replaced by a very hard stick.

MAD London readers will know that I had a cathartic moment just a couple of months ago when I spoke to lawyers representing complainants in the case against Google. Until then, I had, like most people in marketing just thought this was a little bit of moaning from companies that can't keep up with the Internet giant. At worst, Google will get a stiff memo telling it to consider the little guys -- they might even be fine a nanosecond's worth of revenue and then everything would go back to normal.

I realised I was wrong a couple of months ago, and today the majority of marketers will realise they were also on the wrong track if they had downplayed the impact of Brussels potentially taking issue with Google.

Today, if the Financial Times is proven correct, Google will be given what amounts to a charge sheet. The principal point will be that it favours its own services over competitors. You can see for yourself that there is a case to answer by simply tapping in a search for a credit card, a location or a potential purchase and Google services are likely to be prioritised and boxed off for extra prominence towards the top of natural search results. 

It is hard to see how Google can get out of this without changing its ways and paying a huge fine. There is already talk that it could match or even surpass the 2bn Euros Microsoft was fined in the continent's biggest antitrust action to date. 

The action is the result of a new EU Parliament telling its executive arm, the European Commission, to get a move on. After years of meetings and discussions, a vote at the end of last year effectively told the Commission that MEPs were fed up and wanted memos turned in to action. Today they will get their wish.

Just to add insult to injury, the European Commission is also expected to today announce a probe into whether Google has unfair terms with smartphone makers to prioritise use of its own apps. In a case remarkably similar to the aforementioned Microsoft antitrust case, Google could further be taken to task for using its power to ensure that its services are unfairly prioritised on smart phones to run alongside the action it is now facing over search.

Google finds itself in a perfect storm of political distaste for the tactics employed by the American tech giants in Europe. There are issues over privacy, data handling, tax liabilities, copyright and anti-competitive behaviour. It just so happens that the European Commission is best set up to tackle antitrust cases. It has a history of success in prosecuting tech giants to bring them to order and there are strong laws that can be cited with precedents for punishments on the statute books. Tax is altogether different with so many loopholes for a giant to claim it is sticking to the letter of the law albeit, very clearly, not its spirit. Copyright is typically handled by individual countries within the EU, and so the Commission is not in a position to turn words in action and privacy is another mine field which still may well be the undoing of a tech giant -- just look at the class action that has been brought against Facebook by a campaigning lawyer in Vienna, Austria. 

Competition was always going to be the favoured battle ground for the European Commission to flex its muscle, and so it is no surprise that Google is today effectively charged with promoting its own products above rivals in search -- as well as, potentially, its own apps on smartphones and tablets. 

The next move is Google's. It can hold its hands up and change the way it clearly prioritises its own services and be fined, allowing it to move on and put the case behind it. The only other alternative would appear to be dragging its corporate name through the mud in lengthy, public wrangling with the EU to almost certainly face the same fate of a change in business practices and a huge fine. 

Like I said, today's news is huge. Make no mistake. Just as the Microsoft antitrust case defined the PC desktop era, this case will define the Internet age.

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