Any Google Search Bias Just Won’t Fly Over Europe

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The FTC”s Jonathan Leibowitz is taking home what seems a clear message to the USA from his European counterpart, Joaquin Almunia; “Search bias just won’t fly over Europe.”

Joaquín AlmuniaOn Monday FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz met with European Commission (EC) competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia (at left) to discuss complaints that search giant Google has wrongly leveraged their dominant search position in competing with rivals. Facing what could be multiple billions in fines, and no telling what value brand wise, Google has naturally circled their wagons to defend what may end up being the indefensible.

By most accounts late yesterday and early today, the takeaway from these crucial meetings in Brussels seems to be that Joaquin Almunia and the European Commission will remain diligently on course for forcing Google compliance with fairness regulations there. Reports that the FTC’s stance on Google and antitrust could be wavering, apparently had no effect on regulators in Europe. And, if news of the record fine levied by Almunia’s  European Competition Commission cannot be taken as a “signal” to Google, regulators there missed a prime opportunity.

The European Commission fined electronics makers $1.92 billion over alleged price fixing just two days (Wednesday) after Joaquin Almunia and Jon Leibowitz (below right) chatted about Google . The electronic manufacturers were even labeled a cartel, a term not freely used since OPEC banded together to set prices. Complaints from the likes of Microsoft, and some others in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain forced the European Commissions’ and the FTC’s oversight to kick into gear over whether Google has operated unfairly. Now it’s clear that regardless of any weakness by the FTC, Google’s position in the EU is shaky (readers can see the Almunia press conference text here).

As to Google’s stance on the whole matter of monopolistic accusations, the company has called in the firm’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to fence with regulators. Schmidt said that his company has done nothing to breach either EU or US antitrust laws. In fact, if Schmidt’s tone in all this means anything, the world’s biggest Internet brand seems confident, even to the point of being arrogant (indignant?). Schmidt has been quoted as challenging European end EU regulators to sue Google, or drop the matter.

Jon LeibowitzAt the end of this Google antitrust situation stands the risk for tens of billions in fines and other damages versus a company once branded by Co-founders Sergey Brin, Larry Page as one that would “Don’t be evil”.

Ironically, the original so-called Google Manifesto was inextricably tied to segregating search results from advertising. This “Don’t Be Evil” dogma can be seen here in Google’s original IPO S1 Registrations Statement. I quote a pertinent part of the passage there:

 “We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.” (editor’s note: obviously things have changed since)

Evil or good, sending the United States’ fairness regulator home followed by a record fine for the likes of Philips and LG electronics (the two biggest fined Wednesday) should probably be considered pointed proof of at least the differences between North American regulators and European ones.

The Europeans could penalized the US search giant as much as 10% of their 2011 earnings, or some $2.9 billion. But for worldwide reputation, this is a small number comparatively.

Finally, the complaints against Google hinge largely on how searches are displayed too. Regulators say competitor’s results are not shown the same as paid results or Google’s own offerings. While this may seem like a splitting of hairs, Google is arguing that its search results are impartial, relying on the algorithm to deliver “useful, relevant information for consumers.” This begs the real question for any search engine; “Are users seeing what they want to see, or are they seeing what Google (Bing, whoever) wants them to see?” And too, just how “relevant is relevant?”

A last note: The Washington Post reported yesterday the US Department of Justice discussing monopolistic behavior from Google with “interested companies”,  as  reports it; “The Federal Trade Commission is currently looking into Google’s search practices, but insiders say the FTC action may not focus on search bias.” As for the DOJ, that agency has broader powers in dealing with monopolies and such.

Photo credits: Joaquin Almunia – courtesy Wikipedia, Jon Leibowitz – courtesy the Center for American Progress

Phil Butler
Phil Butler is theEditor at Everything PR, Argophilia Travel News,  and Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups,... Read Full Bio
Phil Butler
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  • jnffarrell1

    Just leave me an easy out, of Android, (Oh its open for use by Amazon..) and Chrome Book, (use with Drop box and Google Drive) or let my Chrome Browser switch to IE and Bing and back (not so fast with MS SP1). Other key APIs to maps, conferencing, social, commerce and help with day to day tasks should be open standards.

    Using bogus proprietary formats is what Microsoft did and is doing to lock users in to stuff they don’t want. I don’t want Yelp or Bing. Don’t lock me into what I want now until I die. More of an issue for open standards and technical solutions that provide freedom to the user.

    Much of what Microsoft PR is selling sounds like free pigeon feed for all; then who cleans up the pigeon droppings in the park. The user does.

  • Wingnut

    How is this a thing? Google is a business… it’s not here to help you. It can do whatever the hell it wants to with THEIR info/databases

    Don’t like it don’t use it.

    Robots text google to tell them not to index you…. and watch your traffic drop….

    • Tim Gregory

      Wingnut, they can’t do ‘anything’, if what you mean includes anti-competitive behaviour.
      Regulators don’t hate strong or successful companies. They hate companies that leverage monopolies to put rivals out of business and in so doing reduce competition, consumer choice, and market-driven pricing.