Commentary

Has The EU Just Got It In For Google?

Anyone else a little puzzled about the latest EU fine against Google? The smallest in a series of three, so far, the 1.5bn Euros fine was for anti-competitive behaviour in the search services it offered third parties through its AdSearch service.

Effectively, what the European Commission are reacting to is Google offering a publisher a search facility, but then insisting that its has control over the ads that appear. Well, that's my reading of it. 

I thought it was a pretty simple exchange. Google gives a site a search feature, so people can search through, and on the web, at the push of a button. In return, Google monetises the service through running adverts. For that to make sense, it has to ensure that only it can place ads within the search page. Otherwise it would be offering a search service that rivals could utilise.

Doubtless some of what Google got up to may seem a little strong arm. But if you look at it from a macro level, the exchange of giving a search facility to sites in return for ownership of the ad slots that accompany its results seems pretty straightforward to me.

Another puzzle is that Microsoft, owner of Bing, is believed to have raised the original complaint which was then dropped. There is also another puzzling element to the fine. It applies to past conduct because Google is believed to now be acting more fairly and not curtailing ads from rivals appearing. 

The first search enquiry, which led to a 2.4bn Euro fine, was more clear-cut for me. Google appeared to be prioritising its own businesses, at the expense of rivals, and so was forced to pay a large fine. The Android fine that followed last year was, again, more clear-cut. 

It was deemed to be insisting that Android phone makers made Google apps the default choice and was fine an eye-watering 4.3bn Euros. 

This third fine, however, just seems counterintuitive -- especially when you read the BBC account of Google pleading that it now allows ads from rivals to appear and is working on ways to to make them have greater prominence. 

I'm just not sure why a regulator would expect a business to offer publishers a search facility on which it doesn't have full control/

So it was a case of third time unlucky for me with this fine. I'm sure I can't be the only Brit who is thinking this was a little harsh. 

Ironically, the latest fine landed on the day that Google held its hands up and accepted last year's Android ruling, promising to offer EU consumers a choice between apps, rather than insisting that Google apps are pre-installed as the original default. 

Perhaps even more ironically, the new fine, as mentioned, was for past behaviour -- given that Google has already made moves to reverse its monopoly on ad space for search services it provides for third parties. 

I'm not usually one to feel sorry for Google, but to me, a fine of more than a billion dollars for swapping a search function for ad space seems harsh. It seems harsher when the search giant has already stopped doing what the fine was for. 

I've said it before and will no doubt say it again -- it's likely the tech giants underestimate the annoyance they cause when they are seen as not paying their full and fair share of tax as they push the boundaries of EU business laws to the limit.

This means that when it comes to needing to catch a break, the authorities are all out of lenient ears -- and you end up with a billion-dollar fine for something that didn't really seem all that bad and that you gave up a couple of years ago. 

1 comment about "Has The EU Just Got It In For Google?".
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  1. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, March 21, 2019 at 6:16 p.m.

    China steals intellectual property to compete. In the EU they go in the opposite direction. They can't compete so they just abscond with your wallet.

     


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