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European Parliament reportedly wants Google to be broken up

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The European Parliament is about to call for the “unbundling” of Google’s search business from the rest of its operations, as one potential way to challenge the company’s market dominance, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The FT said Friday that it has seen a draft motion that has the backing of the European People’s Party and the S&D (the Socialists), which are by far the two biggest blocs in the Parliament, with a combined weight of around 55 percent. The motion apparently urges the European Commission – which unlike the Parliament does have the authority to break up companies – to “take a tougher line on Google”, in the FT’s words.

The Parliament reportedly would like the Commission to tackle Google’s dominance either through its ongoing antitrust probe into the firm’s search tactics – currently on pause as new competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager re-evaluates where things stand — or by some other means. It is worth noting that Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, was of the opinion that Google could not be broken up under existing competition legislation. Then again, he was also keener than everyone else to agree an early settlement with the firm, and ultimately failed to do so.

Google has a much higher share of the search market in Europe – well over 90 percent – than it does in the U.S., which is why its practices matter so much there. Some of the criticisms call out clearly anticompetitive practices, such as Google promoting its own services over those of rivals in its results, but others have been piling into the case in recent months.

Of particular note is the campaign against Google by press publishers, particularly those in Germany. The new digital economy commissioner, the German Günther Oettinger, has the copyright reform brief and has indicated that he wants to take the publishers’ side in their quest to extract money from the firm for using snippets of their text in its search results.

Google doesn’t just have to deal with the ever-expanding search-related antitrust probe. Vestager is also mulling multiple competition complaints relating to Google’s all-or-nothing bundling of its core apps with its Android operating system, both from independent app store developers and from nemesis Microsoft, which has also been a major behind-the-scenes force in the search case.

On the ability of the Commission to take drastic measures in antitrust cases, a 2003 regulation states:

Structural remedies should only be imposed either where there is no equally effective behavioural remedy or where any equally effective behavioural remedy would be more burdensome for the undertaking concerned than the structural remedy. Changes to the structure of an undertaking as it existed before the infringement was committed would only be proportionate where there is a substantial risk of a lasting or repeated infringement that derives from the very structure of the undertaking.

However, the Commission has never to my knowledge taken this nuclear option.

Beyond antitrust, Google has also repeatedly shrugged off data protection fines across Europe, as national privacy regulators try desperately but unsuccessfully to force a change in its ways. Oettinger said in a Thursday public Q&A session with the German Press Association (DPA) that “if companies based outside the EU want to operate with their digital services within the European digital market and have access to data which they then store or evaluate, then they must adhere to our rules.”

“We are seeking unified data protection across Europe, one which American companies will have to abide by as well. If this is not the case there is scope for punitive measures and fines,” the digital economy commissioner warned. On the copyright question he also said, slightly mysteriously: “We want European copyright legislation and we want companies like Google to adhere to European copyright standards. We have the legal jurisdiction for this and we want to bring a degree of fairness into the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors.”

Add to that the so-called “right to be forgotten” debate — which affects Google so much because of its dominance, but is not a result of it as such — and the U.S. firm really is having constant struggles in the EU.

The FT article said the motion may be voted upon next Thursday. Again, it is important to note that the Parliament itself cannot initiate any break-up, and the Commission is perfectly capable of ignoring the Parliament’s wishes when it feels like it. Nonetheless, we’re dealing with a Commission that is just a few weeks old — it took over at the start of the month — so it’s hard to judge at this point what it will or will not do.

This article was updated repeatedly to add further background.

15 Responses to “European Parliament reportedly wants Google to be broken up”

  1. Georg Google

    I seriously wonder why the hell Google doesn’t block the EU for, say, a week, just so that they notice how unimportant and disconnected from reality those idiot politicians are.

  2. Truth Central

    Nobody is forcing Europeans to use Google. This sounds like European Parliament trying to conjure an excuse to extort some sort of huge fine from Google like when it did with Microsoft regarding Media Player in the OS. This is utter BS! If I were Google, I would shut off their search service for one week and see what happens. See if they are better off. Back when Microsoft was fined, they should have told the Europeans to go play on the freeway! They should have told them to build their own OS. After all Linux was available then. Why did they not use it then? No one is forcing Europeans to have Windows on their PC. This is nothing more extortion by the parliament in order to bring in cash in their coffers.

  3. The European Parlament, should be broken. I can’t imagine life nowadays without Google, but I can perfectly live without the European Parlament. So “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”. Period.

  4. Let me see if I got this straight.

    A U.S. company (Google) is dominating the search business in Europe (90% market share). The hater companies (making up the 10% market) are lobbying to extract some of the spoils of the victor (Google).

    Am I the only one who sees this for what it is?

    The world is in a financial crisis and non-productive businesses (and countries) are using corrupt legal tactics to extract monies from those who are surviving the storm. Google is doing in Europe what Europe has allowed Google to do for years.

    Somebody was getting paid…under the table.

    I could half-way understand this situation if Google was a European-created company. The fact that a foreign company can enter a country and dominate is not justification to break up or bring false litigation against that company.

    90% of Europe’s web searchers bought into Google. Heck the rest may even use Bing. This is not about Google’s suspect business practices. This is about Europeans saying they like Google’s technology over those produced in Europe.

    Regardless of Google’s privacy shenanigans or copyright issues, Google indeed produces some good products. Heck, I wish they would create an desktop operating system so I can stop using Microsoft.

    The fact is a lot of countries and companies are using corrupt legal tactics to extract money from those who have it using baseless (albeit publicly incendiary) allegations. The hope is to force a settlement: a tactic employed by patent trolls.

    Now do you get it?

    • Google does make a competing OS. Chrome OS. Currently available on Chromebooks.
      It is essentially a beefed up version of Android, which is a Linux kernal based OS.
      Other than that, there are 100’s of other Linux based options such as (just a few examples):
      Ubuntu (What I personally use)

  5. Brought to you by the bright minds that created the very successful cookie law, which doesn’t improve privacy at all, but has every site display a banner asking you to accept cookies.

    These people don’t have a clue of how the internet works, they shouldn’t have the power to break it or worsen the experience, as they are clearly incapable of bringing any benefits. They measures are absurd.

    • nostradamis

      Don’t worry Europe, Apple’s going to cause Google enough pain this quarter and in 2015 to make breaking Google up a non-issue. Won’t be surprised if Larry, CEO, gets fired before June of next year.