Europe makes a turkey of itself with futile Thanksgiving Google demands

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 27, 2014
Summary:
Europe says break up Google, give everyone in the world the Right to be Forgotten and Happy Thanksgiving US tech industry!

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Last year Europe sent the USA a special thanksgiving gift in the form of a list of demands and loose threats from the European Commission around data protection.

This year it’s gone one better with the European Parliament choosing the US holiday to vote for the break-up of Google, while the Commission steps in with its own demand that its invidious Right to be Forgotten should be enforced by the entire world, just because Brussels says so!

We touched on the first of these earlier in the week, commenting on the gesture politics nature of the whole idea given that the European Parliament has no authority to enforce such an action in Europe, never mind anywhere else.

But needless to say, once the zealots had the idea in their heads, it was gung-ho for standing up to the big, bad US tech firm with parliament members voting 384 to 174 (with 56 abstentions) in favor.

Actually Google isn’t named in the motion put to the Parliament yesterday which:

calls on the [European] Commission to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services as one potential long-term solution" to ensure fair competition.

Spanish MEP Ramon Tremosa of Spain, one of the movers for the motion, even insisted that it was not anti-Google.

We are not against Google, or any other US company. We are against monopolies.

If you believe that, you’ll be telling me next that this a turkey’s favorite time of year!

The motivation, as we noted earlier in the week, is transparently to put the European Union anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager under pressure to press formal charges against Google.

Certainly in the US, the increasing anti-Google sentiment is seen as a concern, with many suspecting that it’s the tip of a wider protectionist iceberg.

A bi-partisan letter from senior Senate and House of Representatives members earlier week warned the Commission:

This and similar proposals build walls rather than bridges [and] do not appear to give full consideration to the negative effect such policies may have on the broader US-EU trade relationship.

There are some sane voices out there. The ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) group of parties voted against the resolution, saying:

Parliament should not be engaging in anti-Google resolutions, inspired by a heavy lobby of Google competitors or by anti-free market ideology, but ensure fair competition and consumer choice.

Günther Oettinger, the EU's 'interesting' new digital economy commissioner, had earlier this week warned against a move towards a planned economy rather than a free market and promised that Google would not be broken up while he was in charge (even if he had the power to do so, which he doesn’t!) .

But at the same time, in a clear pitch to the home crowd back in his native Germany, he’s pushing to hit Google with a levy for displaying copyright protected material:

If Google takes intellectual property from the EU, and makes use of it, then the EU can protect this property and impose a levy on Google for it.


RELATED STORIES

European court’s Google ruling provides a blunt instrument to rewrite history (diginomica.com)

UK tells EU to forget the unworkable, unreasonable, wrong right to be forgotten (diginomica.com)

Pedophiles and politicos rewrite history through Europe’s ‘right to be forgotten’ (diginomica.com)


Meanwhile the European Commission has weighed in with its own demand that every other country in the world should fall into line with its controversial Right to be Forgotten, most particularly the US.

Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice earlier this year, European citizens can ask Google and other search engine providers to remove links to content that they don’t want others to see.

But this only applies to European versions of Google, such as google.co.uk or google.de. So all that’s needed to get around this at present is to switch the search to Google.com.

That’s got to stop, according to Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of France’s data-protection regulator:

The court says the delisting decision has to be effective. These decisions should not be easily circumvented by anybody.

More formally, the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), a group of privacy regulators from EU countries that issued guidelines on the Right to be Forgotten yesterday, stated:

Limiting de-listing to EU domains on the grounds that users tend to access search engines via their national domains cannot be considered a sufficient means to satisfactorily guarantee the rights of data subjects according to the ruling. In practice, this means that in any case de-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains.

Google’s response to date:

We haven't yet seen the Article 29 Working Party's guidelines, but we will study them carefully when they're published.

My take

The anti-Google sentiment across many European legislators is hugely distasteful, not least because bubbling beneath the surface is a planned economy, protectionist stance masquerading as an appeal for a level playing field for Europe.

Proposing to extend the Right to be Forgotten to the rest of the world is (a) astoundingly, but not surprisingly, arrogant and (b) ridiculous at a time when European Union countries are themselves still divided over it with the UK in particular fighting to keep it out of planned new data protection regulations.

Any hope that the departure of the old guard of Viviane Reding and Neelie Kroes might bring about a change of outlook is clearly overly optimistic.

Happy turkey day US tech industry!

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