EU To Google -- Stop Doing Evil!

Oh, happy day -- it has finally happened. The European Commission has trudged through mountains of paperwork, listened to sufficient arguments and been prodded to take action enough times by the European Parliament.

Google has finally been handed the biggest fine in the EU's history. At GBP2.1bn, $2.7bn or 2.4bn Euros, the record fine dwarfs the mere billion pounds that Intel was slapped with back in 2009.

The reaction from London? Not a day too soon. There are some that will think Google just embodies the go-getter attitude of American commerce and deserves praise rather than sanction. Anyone who has been following the case or anyone that realises what Google's been up to, however, will be dancing today to the tune of champagne corks. This has been a long time coming.

Let's be clear. Google is so unequivocally guilty, the only real question is why it took so long to come up with the verdict. Considering that the EU has the power to fine Google 10% of its global turnover, shall we say $9bn, the search giant should really be wondering whether it should be thankful the fine could have been more than four times worse. 

In case you are unaware, let's sum up very quickly what Google has been doing. It's obvious that it is guilty because, by definition, it's how the service works, it's how it presents its results. As such, it has hung itself. Type a query into Google, and although it's not always as obvious as it used to be, you will usually find a Google map, a business listing or another Google service prioritised. If you're after flights, you'll likely get the Google travel service -- or if it's financial information, another Google service.

To drive home the point, search for a product and you'll soon see a window stuffed with competing offers, but all through Google's shopping service. That's right -- nobody else gets a look in for this format of ad. It's Google all the way.

To give Google its right of reply, its usual answer to this is that it doesn't sell as much as eBay or Amazon and that those sites only let people search within them for goods. Well, the point here is, of course, that Google is supposed to be a search engine. It's supposed to be our friend that goes out, scours the Web and brings us back the most appropriate results.

It's not supposed to be a front to sell us goods that can only be displayed through a shop window it has exclusivity on, to the detriment of other online retailers.

What happens next? Well, Google has told the BBC it is mulling over the verdict and will consider an appeal. As things stand, however, it has 90 days to mend its ways and stop promoting its own services through ad formats that are not available to others.

What will it do? If it doesn't appeal, it could just pay the fine and stop being anti-competitive. My feeling is it could stick to the same ad formats that have caused the big issue, but change strategy so the valuable real estate is available to any retailer prepared to outbid the other. That's right -- another cash cow will be opened up for Google.

If that's isn't enough to banish any concern you may have for Google, ask yourself this. Has a corporation that pays around 1% or less corporation tax in the UK through tax avoidance structures (all legal, it would appear, but galling nonetheless) been getting away with murder for far too long? Just over two billion pounds is a lot of money, yes -- but it would soon have been swallowed up by paying full UK tax in the UK. To get back to the misdemeanour, the question is whether Google has earned more than two billion pounds through being anti-competitive since the investigation launched back in 2010. 

The answer is likely to be a yes. So let's not worry for Google, I firmly believe it took a gamble that it would make more through being anti-competitive than it would face through even a record fine. It has also created a piece of digital marketing real estate it can now open to others to bid on. So ultimately, Google is likely to have come out of this a few quid up.

And Google has form here. It's still facing an investigation into how it restricts apps that were made pre-available on Android phones as well as accusations that it tries to influence control over where rivals ads can appear on third party sites which use a Google search box. Those cases are still ongoing.

Google has known all along exactly what it is dong. It did the math, and will likely come out of the whole process ahead. The same cannot be said for the companies whose route to market it has muddied.

Google deserves everything it gets and what it is about to get from further EU fines. This from the company that pretends to live by the motto of "do no evil."

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