In mid April the European Commission filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. The basic allegations are that Google was putting its own products and services above those of its competitors’. The lawsuit comes after four years of investigations and three failed attempts at out-of-court settlements.
On Saturday, Google made it’s first official statement (not including an official blog post) regarding the antitrust lawsuit. They did this through their new European President Matt Brittin. A position recently created to help streamline the California based company across the pond.
Google’s Response to EU Antitrust Lawsuit
Matt Brittin essentially told Politico, like a nervous gambler who hasn’t paid his debts, that this is all a big misunderstanding. Claiming that the company simply didn’t explain its vision to policy makers in Europe. Saying; “We don’t always get it right. As far as Europe is concerned: we get it. We understand that people here are not the same in their attitudes to everything as people in America.”
But is that really it? In the United States Google enjoys a 70% share of the search market, but in Europe, it lavishes in a whopping 95% share. It’s fair to say that any positive outcome for the EC will only help consumers. Having more competition is never a bad thing.
Continuing his argument against the antitrust lawsuit Brittin also claimed that the EC is behind the times. That they should butt out simply because the competition (what competition?) is so stiff: pointing out that 7 out of 8 minutes spent online is on apps. He goes on to say “Over that [the last] five-year period the world’s changed, right; we’ve all got the entire internet in our pocket. There is a big shift in how we’re accessing information and I think there has never been a more competitive time than this in terms of the choices that consumers have.”
But Wait! There’s More!
Google is also in hot water regarding its Andriod service. In a separate investigation the EC is investigating whether Google hindered development by incentivising and sometimes requiring smartphone and tablet manufacturers to exclusively install Google’s applications, and if they have done the same thing by bundling Google applications and services. This lawsuit comes after two complaints were filed and an investigation on the EC’s own initiative.
Also, in early June, another company, Disconnect.me, filed a formal complaint after their app was removed from the Google Play store. Disconnect.me is a privacy centered app focused on disrupting third party malicious tracking, preventing unwanted ads, and malware (‘malvertising threats’). Some of the founders of the start-up are former Google employees.
Brittin maintains that the app was removed for interfering with other apps and how they make money. Brittain says, “We apply this policy uniformly, and Android developers strongly support it. All apps must comply with these policies and there are over 200 privacy apps available in Google Play that do.”
Same Song and Dance
Google has gotten very good at toeing the line. It seems their general policy is ask for forgiveness, not permission. Google Buzz is one example. Another, is in 2012 when Google was caught red-handed collecting incredibly sensitive material through their street-view cars. The Federal Communication Commission found that the street-view cars were not just taking pictures for the Google Maps app, but was also snooping on nearby WiFi as they drove around your neighborhood. On non-password protected networks the cars were able to gather e-mails, passwords, and the WiFi’s GPS location among other things.
When the FCC probed further, Google claimed to have no knowledge of the code that allowed this to happen and blamed it on a lone wolf engineer. However, later it was discovered that the unnamed engineer did indeed tell several other senior members of the team about the code. In the end, Google collected about 200 gigabytes of data and only a $25,000 fine for obstructing the investigation.
Sometimes the Invisible Free Hand Needs Some Help
Given the failure of the U.S. FTC to bring any tangible change to Google’s practices, I sincerely hope that something will come of the current EC lawsuit. Monopolies are inherently dangerous to the notion of free-enterprise that the world has built the economy on. No company should be able to use its dominance in any market to further only its on cause. Choice is inherently human and society relies on it.
feature image courtesy of consumerwatchdog.org