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Europe's posturing futility with Google break-up call

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 23, 2014
European politicians are planning a pointless vote to rattle some more sabres in the direction of Google in an exercise of posturing futility.

Just when it seems that Googlephobia can’t be any more rampant in European political circles, up steps the European Parliament with what has to come close to being the most naked piece of pointless gesture politics yet.

Later this week the Parliament will vote on a proposal that would see Google broken up to curtail its market dominance on the basis that search engine practices are apprarently ‘abusive’.

A document drafted by the European People’s Party is somewhat more revealing of the underlying protectionist agenda when it argues that the companies need to be “unbundling search engines from other commercial services” so Europe’s digital industry can thrive.

Now the good news here: this is utterly pointless gesture politics and an empty threat - at least in the short term - as the European Parliament actually has no authority to implement any such action. Anything it votes on this week is entirely non-binding.

Only the executive arm in the Commission itself can propose something and then ask the Parliament to approve. That’s before we get into the whole notion of politicians from tiny European nations dicating policy to a US tech giant!

The Computer and Communications Industry Association in Washington has already deemed this a political gesture:

This motion ... threatens to undermine the credibility of a long-running commission investigation by blatantly interjecting politics into a legal process.

But the idea here is clearly to give weight to the anti-Google forces in the Commission. The intention is transparently to increase pressure on Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner, to bring formal charges against Google.

Latest move

This is the latest twist in an ongoing grudge match between Europe’s political administration in Brussels and Google.

The European Commission formally investigated Google in 2010 when it declared that the company oprered unfair practices. Since the various Eurocrats have been attempting to draft a working proposal to fix the problem. As it stands, the draft calls for EU antitrust regulators not to agree to the terms proposed by Google.

In particular Germany has set its cap against Google with German justice minister Heiko Maas demanding that Google revals how its search alogorithm works. The German media has also been arguing that Google News is stealing copyright by linking to articles, which backfired spectacularly when Google just didn’t bother doing just that.


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So let’s take a look at what nonsense the Parliament is pitching here? Essentially it’s suggesting that Google should be made to slice off its search interests, just in Europe! You can see how that’s going to appeal to Google bosses in the US who already have to comply with the disgraceful Right to be Forgotten legislation in the region.

The US Federal Trade Commission has already examined Google, found no wrongdoing, and closed its investigation, so Europe can expect no support from Washington to its latest hissy-fit (even if Washington were open to the idea of pushed around by politicians from countries they couldn’t even point to on a map!)

Not like Microsoft

The whole thing is ridiculous. Back in the 1990s, the Commission got uppity about Microsoft bundling Windows on new PCs and took action on anti-competitive grounds. That was a more valid case: removing Windows and opting for something non-Microsoft in origin was a pretty hefty ask for most users.

It is totally not comparable to switching to a new search engine which takes, oooooooh, seconds! Surely the most that should be required is for a ‘we collect cookies’ style message pointing out that other search engines are available, just in case the hard-of-thinking hadn’t realised.

The draft has been written by Andreas Schwab of the European People’s Party from Germany, who insists:

We have a lot of support..In case the proceedings against Google carry on without any satisfying decisions and the current anti-competitive behavior continues to exist, a regulation of the dominant online web search should be envisaged.

Meanwhile Google co-founder Larry Page has recently made his own feelings towards Europe’s stance quite clear when he criticised European legislators stance towards innovation:

Why can't we get more of these things going in Europe? Like celebrating technology, having a friendly environment for it, having more investment in science and a basic understanding and entrepreneurialism and making money and moving quickly and kind of the things that are good about Silicon Valley.

My take

I’m with Page on this one.

Idiotic posturing by Euro-politicos with an agenda that they can’t even be bothered to conceal.

It'll also create more Euro-tension. The Germans and the French might well back the idea - the former for data protection reasons, the latter for giving a US tech company a good kicking - but the likes of the UK and Ireland are unlikely to fall in line.

Ironically of course, the Eurocrats find themselves unlikely bedfellows with the Rupert Murdoch axis which has already been urging Brussels to get tough on Google. That alone might give many cause to pause for thought.

But then my enemy's enemy is my politically-expedient tool.


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