A few years ago, the EU was pressured by various members to sue Microsoft for abusing its monopoly position to gain unfair advantage. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and in the end, Microsoft was forced to pay some two billion dollars in fines. Now, similar pressure is being applied by more than thirty different European nations to file suit against Google.
What Are The Charges?
The claim is that Google is abusing its virtual monopoly on European search to push its own services in preference to those of competing services that accomplish similar goals or tasks. Although their charges don’t explicitly say so, it is clear that the implication is that Google is doing this to stifle European competition.
Google has countered by claiming that it provides fast, easy, reliable, and comprehensive search results, and that those results include competitor products. It is therefore easy for any user to both find and switch to some competing app or service that Google does not control.
There’s certainly truth and logic to that. Anyone can see, by simply conducting a search using one of the European servers, that Google is correct. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of conspiracy to give preferential treatment to Google services, and the company’s claim that any would-be searcher can without difficulty switch to competitor products is likewise easily demonstrated.
At first glance, it would be easy to call the Google and Microsoft cases similar. Two giant American tech companies, each with a virtual lock on their respective markets. It’s easy to see why there is some fear and trepidation (or perhaps jealousy) on the part of smaller, European start-ups who find it all but impossible to gain ground against these Titans.
Nonetheless, there are some fairly profound differences. Search isn’t like an Operating System. If you want to switch to a different search engine, it’s as easy as pointing your browser to a different URL. Contrast that with how difficult it is to get up and running on a new OS, especially given the lack of support for smaller, start up operating systems. There’s just no comparison.
Even so, two things seem likely. First, cases like these are not resolved quickly or easily. In the case of Microsoft, the case dragged on for more than a decade before a settlement was reached, so we can expect a similar timeframe in the Google suit, and of course, as a prerequisite to this, we can absolutely expect the European Trade Commission to formally bring charges and take the case to court.
Second, it’s all but certain that although Google can drag the process out for years, the courts are very likely to find against the tech giant. It doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean that there is any substance to the charges, but Europe has a history of being somewhat more protectionist than the US. As such, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine them finding in favor of their own, and against Google. The smart money says that’s what will eventually occur.