Commentary

Europe Raises The Axe On Google

It was widely expected by Easter but now seems more likely by the end of Autumn when Europe will have returned to work with a sun tan and a boost to the EU coffers. After six years, yes that's right, six years of talking, the European Commission has levelled another pair of charges at Google's door.

It may look like yet more talking but, for me, the mood in Europe now is moving towards action. For anyone who's watched the growing dispute between Europe and Google, there is no doubt the search giant is going to get a large fine. It's been in the post for the past year or so, since the European Parliament voted to tell its executive arm, the Commission, to pull its finger out and conclude a six year investigation with a hefty fine. That is most definitely the feeling in Europe and so the latest move from Brussels feels like a police officer adding to the charge sheet so everything can be dealt with in one fell swoop.

The two latest charges are that the search giant tries to prevent advertisers running search ads with others -- ie. Bing -- and that it unfairly prioritises its own companies in search results. With the former charge, the search giant is believed to have relaxed its rules. The latter charge, though, is just a beefing up of an accusation Google always faced and is the reason it is in such hot water. Most of the big names petitioning against the American giant are European rivals who feel their brands are held back because of Google Maps, Finance, Shopping, YouTube and so on, are prioritised over their own.

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Google already faces an antitrust charge over accusations it forces manufacturers to accept Google as the main search engine on Android phones. It now has ten weeks to respond to the two new charges, of which, in reality, only one is new. That puts us on a time frame for a decision in the late Autumn. Trust me, European politicians want this whole debacle sorted and Google fined because even by EU standards, threatening to fine a company for six years seems like quite an drawn-out affair.

So, around the end of Autumn, or fall if you prefer, Google will get a clear steer on its fate. It could choose to draw out the process further but it will almost certainly be drawing out the inevitable. The post and The Telegraph estimates that the fine will fall well short of the $7 billion per charge and it far more likely to be a final total of around $3 bilion. Anyone reading weakness in the European Commission going back to the charge sheet and giving Google another ten weeks to explain itself will find themselves very much mistaken. The Commission wants everything wrapped up and sorted so it can fine, be praised for taking a strong stance and then move on. This is simply about lining up proverbial ducks in a row before Google finds out how many billions the fine will amount to. Yes, it's more talk but i firmly believe it's the final chapter in a six year debacle. 

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