Tag Archives: search engines

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.

 

Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

Europe has long held a healthy concern about the power wielded by search giant Google. With more than 80% market share and increasingly influential in all areas of technology, from desktop to mobile, browser to cloud computing, the company has found opposition mounting around the European Union in various guises.

Now it’s the turn of Spain, but the country’s government appears to have gone too far with its attempt to squeeze Google over its News product.

The so-called “Google tax,” which was passed last week, intends to collect revenue from online news providers who aggregate headlines from Spanish media outlets. It goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, but Google chose to act preemptively to avoid charges and earlier today shut down its news item content from Spanish content providers.

The law has been widely criticized by journalists, especially in the technology sector, for being over prescriptive and getting its just desserts with Google pulling the plug on a product that provides valuable traffic to the country’s publications. That criticism largely fails to delve into the nuance of intellectual property, however, and present the other side of the argument that publishers should have a right to dictate how and when their content is used.

In some cases the news that Google presents may in itself stand as a piece of content, in which case it benefits the search engine but not the publication whose headlines it has pulled. Spain’s law does go too far in the other direction though, making payments mandatory and giving publishers no option to decide that they want to give away these snippets in exchange for the traffic that a search engine can send them.

For its part Google’s reasoning that it makes no money on news, while accurate in fact, seems somewhat disingenuous. Although its News section makes no revenue from ads directly, it’s certainly a factor that attracts users who go on to search the company’s other listings, building its brand and generating revenue on ad clicks in those paid sections. In that sense at least, Google is playing off the content of others – in this case snippets of their reports – in order to bring in the eyeballs that swell its allure for advertisers.

More than anything else this case demonstrates just how fine a line content creators now walk, in terms of monetizing what they create directly versus giving elements of it away for free in order to play the long game. For news sites that means traffic to sell its adverts or subscriptions for more. As that traffic is likely to dip substantially without Google in the weeks and months to come, it’s understandable why Spanish publishers are quickly backtracking on this attempt to push Google’s buttons.