Tag Archives: European Commission

At Home and Across the Atlantic, Google’s Legal Woes Grow

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Google Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google is facing a tough road ahead, legally-speaking, as both US and European organizations line up to question the company’s practices. 

Both challenges revolve around antitrust charges; not a new allegation for Google, but certainly coming at the dominant search engine with more teeth this time around. The American case focuses more on media accusations that a non-investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which dates back to 2012, requires further scrutiny.

Across the Atlantic, Google faces increased criticism within the European Union (EU), with whom its relationship has always been tense at best.

The accusations in this case come from competitors based in Europe, who allege that their American rival uses its de facto monopoly on the search market to steer potential customers to its own products and web properties. When those properties are presented at the top of the search results by a company that dominates the European market to the tune of more than 90 percent, and competitors pushed down to positions that are rarely viewed, it raises questions as to the true neutrality of those results.

 

This is where the EU comes in, overseeing a case that could potentially cost Google some $66 billion if authorities rule against the company and opt to fine it the full 10 percent of profits that European rules allow. Even for one of the most cash-rich brands in the world, that’s an amount that will do some significant damage.

If it goes all the way the case will mark a new low for Google in Europe, after many years of trading blows with the area’s regulators at both national or regional level.

Earlier this year we reported on why Google chose to pull its news services in Spain, following a disagreement with the government and certain media outlets in the country over how it scrapes their sites for news content. Suspiciously, only a couple of months later, the country’s attempt to block prominent piracy site The Pirate Bay was scuppered in part by a Google-related workaround. Although there was support for Google from some sections of the European media, the general reputation of the company is consistently under fire in the region, whether over its tax avoidance in the United Kingdom or privacy concerns in Germany.

The news issue, for example, is predated by a wider tug of war with the EU over the company’s patchy approach to user privacy, and the controversial “Right to be Forgotten” law that came into effect in Europe last year. Some believe Google’s actions in Spain amount to heavy-handed tactics, intended to communicate Mountain View’s displeasure with increasingly tight regulation of its activity. When a company holds all the cards in a marketplace as large as the EU, though, it’s fair to assume that it should be held to a high standard.

However, as we see in the U.S. and with the dropped FTC investigation, Google is used to getting what it wants and playing by its own rules.

As in many cases where it is asked to do its fair share to curb illicit and fraudulent activity, Google complained about the burden of responsibility and trotted out some well-worn arguments about unnecessary regulations stifling innovation. Now those arguments ring rather hollow, given the widespread antitrust accusations leveled against the company at home and abroad.

In Europe, Google’s greedy appetite to hold on to every last percentage point of market dominance may prove to be its undoing. Competition is a close companion to innovation, so stifling the former is really little different to hindering the latter, which Google so often accuses others of doing. For that reason, privacy and intellectual property advocates in the Unites States will be watching the European example closely as this case unfolds.

 

Europe’s Safer Internet Day Casts a Broad Net Online

Yesterday marked the 11th annual Safer Internet Day, an initiative introduced by the European Commission back in 2004 to promote “a better Internet.”

Emphasizing more responsible use of online and mobile technology, especially among younger generations, the event enters its second decade in a significantly different tech world than existed at its inception. Faster connections and the rapid adoption of mobile devices means that far more people around the world are now connected and spending more time online than ever before.

Safer Internet Day

Against that unrelenting march of technology, the European Commission has continued to promote activities around SID and broaden the initiative’s appeal around the world.

 

A Broad Net for Online Safety

With its focus on young people and the way they interact with technology, the European Commission clearly sees early education as the most effective way to encourage better behavior online.

Covering everything from respect for others and understanding online dangers to malware and ID theft, the initiative quickly spread around the world thanks to activities like the SID blogathon and universal media interest in the subject. Even complex, constantly morphing challenges like illicit sites and the fraudulent tactics they use to make money fall within the remit of creating a better and safer Internet, though such issues will undoubtedly require more than isolated awareness programs to significantly reduce their threat.

Trustworthy Accountability Group logoCoincidentally, Safer Internet Day aligned with the announcement of a major initiative against malware and fraudulent online advertising in the United States.

The TAG program, entitled the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, takes aim at one of the major concerns for brand advertisers and content creators alike: the funding of sites that engage in copyright infringement  by advertising networks unable to control where their ad inventory ends up.

Although it might seem like the world’s biggest brands should have the resources to control exactly where their ads appear and, accordingly, which sites they support, the reality is that online advertising has been something of a crapshoot until now. Advertisers buy up space across broad networks that place their messages on a variety of sites, many perfectly legitimate but some with less honest business models. The latter often involves making content available without its creator’s approval, in a bid to attract users whose pageviews make the site money via the adverts.

Clearly, this is no good for either the brands, who want to maintain a trustworthy reputation, or the creators whose work is being taken as bait by such sites. Where Safer Internet Day intersects with this issue is the types of ads being displayed and the potential dangers that they can transmit. If it’s reputable brands being displayed by the rogue site, the user may feel more comfortable using it even though its content is fraudulently obtained. If that increased trust results in a click, not only does the site benefit from extra ad revenue, the user could easily be railroaded into downloading malware that damages their device, or adware that tracks their online activity for future ad delivery.

In either case, this is validation of piracy and privacy invasions by unintentional association. 

Even when household name brands aren’t involved, the content of the ads placed can be questionable, such as those that promote gambling or pornography, which clearly aligns with the European Commission’s goal to educate users about the dangers such sites pose.

Between the EC’s awareness drive and the U.S. ad industry’s new commitment to weed out , Safer Internet Day in 2015 becomes a rallying point for anyone seeking to improve the online experience of consumers and creators alike.

Europe Hammers Away at Google

The disconnect between Google and European privacy authorities shows little sign of reaching a conclusion any time soon. Google’s stepped up lobbying efforts are only backfiring, according to analysis in Venture Beat.

European privacy regulators once again rebuked Google last week for its stepped up efforts to tie data gathering initiatives across its portfolio of platforms. The specific order last week, was issued by German authorities who informed Google that it was in violation of German law.

Then there’s the securities issue that has been bedeviling Google for several years. Google and the European Commission were on the verge of reaching a settlement to an ongoing EC antitrust violation when officials asked Google to make more changes to the terms.

The ongoing nature of the disputes is illustrative of two issues. The first is differences in expectations about privacy in Europe and the United States. The U.S. public has become accepting or perhaps resigned to the fact that privacy is going the way of the dinosaur, or being redefined, depending on your take on it. Europeans are less willing to let go, or at least that’s the view of proactive European regulators.

The second issue is more speculative. It is whether the EC resents the fact that it is a U.S. company that’s moving in on privacy. That’s a double whammy that might be just a bit too much to take for some in the EC. From a U.S. perspective it rings of anti-competitiveness. But I can understand an ambivalence to give up privacy in the name of Google profits. What’s perhaps missing is an understanding of what might be possibly gained by Google’s data grab.