Day Of Reckoning For Google

Did Google just get a glimpse of what it would be like to be a normal everyday company that pays its full and fair share of tax where the revenue was earned?

It appears that it certainly has been shown what figures are like when anti-competitive behaviour is no longer tolerated and the wrath of the EU is incurred.

The tech giant has just recorded its weakest quarterly growth in three years as ad revenue grew by 17% year-on-year in the first quarter. For the past couple of years, growth has been around or just over the 20% mark, pushed up by PPC growing by around 60% instead of the last quarter's 39%.

So it's fair to say that market forces are having an impact on Google as competition forces the price of advertising down. I blogged very recently about Amazon's impact on this. I was speaking with Mindshare, for example, which now considers, where appropriate, that just like Google, Amazon search should be an "always on" channel. It cannot be a coincidence that growth in PPC at Google nearly halves as the big agencies lock on to the promise of being seen on its new rival, the place where people don't just go to find out about products but to actually buy them.

But the question remains of whether being down a billion dollars, compared to forecasts, is what life would look like if Google were not among one of big tech gang that are adept at -- completely legally -- moving money around to minimise their tax liabilities. 

It's an academic point, to be honest, but the anger it has caused in the EU and the fallout from antitrust investigations is in those figures to be seen. The Times confirms that Google has set aside a $1.7bn charge in its Q1 figures to cover an EU fine after it was found guilty of trying to squeeze out rivals in online advertising by barring its AdSense users from accepting rivals' business. 

This, of course, follows on from the big one last summer, the GBP3.8bn fine for abusing its leading position as the company behind Android to ensure its search engine app was pre-installed on phones using the operating system. This came just a year after, in 2017, the EU fined Google GBP2.2bn for taking advantage of its dominance in desktop search. 

So two years, and around eight and a half billion pounds in fines later, we finally see Google coming face to face with the cost of doing business in what the EU deems an anti-competitive manner. 

When one considers the relatively small amounts of tax it pays in EU countries, compared to the billions it earns in revenues and the billions it claims in profits, there may be some truth in the cynic's view.

It has long been joked about in EU media circles that the trading bloc got fed up of trying to agree how to tax the tech giants and so decided to fine them instead. It's a joke but, like most, there's a potential element of truth. 

Do you think the EU would have gone so hard on Google if it paid what Brussels believes to be its full and fair share and tax? I would suggest Google just may have a chance of a slightly easier ride. Yes, it would have been dominating EU markets but at least its billions of tax revenues were building roads and hospitals. 

So, it's a day of reckoning for Google. It's still growing, albeit it at a slower rate, but it's now in the territory of missing Wall Street predictions by a billion dollars at the same time as it sets aside nearly a billion and three quarters to pay Brussels for not playing nicely with its AdSense rivals. Whether it was tax, or fines, the EU was always going to find a way to squeeze some money out of the tech giant. 

The end result for Google is a set of figures that show what happens when you are opened up to greater competition and are paying the fines having behaved poorly in the past. 

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