WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 – European Union competition regulator Margreth Vestager has filed charges against Google in Europe for “illegally abusing its dominance of the Internet search market in Europe.”
The EU’s concerns are focused on whether Google is “artificially divert(ing) traffic from rival comparison shopping services (to its Google Shopping) and hinder their ability to compete.”
The formal complaint, called a statement of objection, is the result of a five-year investigation into whether Google has violated its antitrust laws. If findings are against Google, it could cost the Internet monopoly fines in excess of $6 billion.
U.S.-based Google is a multinational corporation that has attained unquestioned dominance in the Internet search and services field. For many companies, including smaller start-ups seeking some kind of parity, or at least a level playing field, Google effectively owns all the GPS and road maps for all the stores and newsstands in your town.
Vestager is concerned that Google is unfairly discriminating by sending Internet searchers and shoppers to their own vast product suite. Essentially, Google not only owns the service provider, but also demands users go to a Google approved/owned site to buy.
What does that mean to you? The answer is simple. If you don’t already have a favorite destination url to go to, and if you use Google search to find that perfect blouse you saw Kim Kardashian wearing, Google will tell you where to go to buy it. And not surprisingly, it will take a slice of that sale as well. This process is known as rank preference, and rank preference can determine the possible success or failure of any online business.
Specifically, Commissioner Vestager says that she is
“…concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules. Google now has the opportunity to convince the commission to the contrary.”
Google ranking also unfairly targets all web sites, not just retailers.
If you are not one of the larger players on line and already dealing with millions of visits, a hefty advertising budget or the ability to pay a dedicated social media expert to help drive traffic to your site, it’s as if your business is a small shop at the Mall of America, relegated to the farthest and darkest back corner of this mega-center, hidden behind the concession stands that flank the indoor amusement park.
Simply put, Google not only owns the mall and the leasing agreements. The company also decides whether to put you on the mall directory. Or not.
And they also want to own the roads to the mall, and we can assume they will charge a toll to use those roads.
First revealed in 2010, Google Fiber, an ultra-high-speed broadband network initially implemented in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.
Not long after this, in 2013 Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, told a New York Times Deal Book conference that Google Fiber is a reality, announcing their next expansion projects in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. “It’s actually not an experiment,” he offered. “We’re actually running it as a business.”
In January 2015, Google announced Google Fiber expansion is fully underway, singling out Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Nashville as the next markets that will gain Google Fiber deployments. Moving right along, on March 24, 2015, Google further announced it would be expanding Google Fiber into Salt Lake City. (Source: Wikipedia)
The result is that “net neutrality” be damned. Google plans to own broadband access, offering three options to prospective customers: a free option, a 1 Gbit/s Option and a television service option. And here we were worried about Comcast, Verizon and big telecom devouring all of the Internet’s economic pie.
The Google monopoly has quietly expanded throughout the vastness of the Internet, as willing users have found it easier and easier to combine their tasks via Google services. However, Google has simultaneously attracted its share of critics, based on what many business observers see as the company’s unfair market dominance, including its ever-lengthening and strengthening corporate tendrils that are capturing more and more different kinds of business (as with Google Fiber, for example) every day.
Some aspects of Google’s business include many convenient online services that you and I choose to use every day. These include:
- Online productive software like Gmail
- Google Drive Cloud Storage
- Google Docs office
- Google+ social media service
- Google Chrome browser
- Google Instant Messaging
All of these services, starting with search and ending with document storage, allow Google to put on their own special Google glasses to peer into and impact our businesses if not our professional lives, to control the success or failure of any website and to quash competition when and how it sees fit.
Google’s dominance is also increasing security concerns. If hackers can get into the Cloud to steal Jennifer Lawerence’s racy pictures, Google can access any aspect of your business that you choose to store there as well.
Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, students at Stanford University who developed it as a campus=wide search engine. Google is a play on the world googol, which is the number “1” followed by one hundred zeros.
Today, Google is the one at the head of this numerical pack, and those zeros are nearing the billions. Google controls access to 90 percent of all Internet searches in Europe, and the company enjoys a widely reported 62.3 percent global dominance in search that includes the United States.
On the global market, China’s Baidu.com owns nearly 20 percent of all global search, which increases Google’s dominance globally to a much higher percentage.
“17 billion explicit core searches were conducted in February, with Google Sites ranking first with 11 billion. Microsoft Sites ranked second with 3.4 billion searches, followed by Yahoo Sites with 2.2 billion, Ask Network with 304 million and AOL, Inc. with 184 million. – comScore.com”
As of this writing, Wednesday, April 15, according to InternetLiveStats.com, the number is 929,527,870, no, 871, 872… oops, now seconds later, that number is 929,528,039, or just over 70 million more sites to one billion on line search choices. And Google wants to control your access to every single one of them.
Of course, we must take into consideration that large numbers of websites previously created are not all active; the statistic of concern is not the overall number, but how quickly new sites are added every second.
Also not all those sites are service sites; some are personal. But many are businesses located around the world, all of which need a fair and level playing field in order to succeed. And without new business successes, as in “Animal Farm,” the pigs will run everything and everything else will fail.
The EU’s complaint is most concerned about Google’s practices when it comes to dealing with service sites: retailers in particular. However, we can extrapolate that concern to also include information providers – news and information sites, like Communities Digital News – that you are reading now. As we all know, he who controls the information controls the world.
The intent of the Internet, or the World Wide Web, the virtual space where so many of us now conduct business, was always that it would be a free utility for public use. The first-ever web site, credited as Ground Zero, was published on Aug. 6, 1991, by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee, who was then working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. CERN created the technology that allows the familiar acronym “www” (World Wide Web), available on a royalty-free basis to the public domain.
But in 1991, Berners-Lee and CERN could not have anticipated that one company would muscle all others out in order to own the World Wide Web itself including the way we are allowed to access it.
Google’s monopoly on search and Internet access increases the need for vigilance to assure that the Internet remains a free, public utility as originally intended. Vestager is taking the first step that a feckless U.S. government is failing to take despite numerous complaints from Internet users and experts who have been crying foul over Google’s growing dominance even as they have been co-opted to use and help grow this corporate behemoth into a business and information monopoly.
A concern for any web site owner should be Google’s proven unwillingness or inability, time and time again, to be fair and impartial to all companies, governments and users. A quick Google search of the term “google unfairly” results in more than 2,600,000 responses.
As anyone who has ever tried to reach a “person” at Google to discuss one of their decisions knows this daunting task is not unlike attempting to negotiate with the evasive and omnipotent “Q,” who dwells in the farthest corner of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s universe. No effective phone, email, IM or tin-can communication link exists between the user and Google.
You are ultimately told that it is impossible for them to offer customer service call centers simply due to the vast number of Google business users.
At this point, a key question arises: How can we allow someone or something we cannot communicate with to control the world’s business destiny?
Google defend its monopolistic strategy by claiming it is “just another website.”
The answer to this dilemma may ultimately involve removing Google’s effective monopoly over the Internet search function, returning this crucial service to the public utility it once was meant to be. Let Google keep its advertising business, office suites and other business ventures. But simply remove Google’s ability to decide who is and who is not worthy of prime search placement and promotion.
Old adages persist. If it remains unchecked, Google’s absolute power will corrupt absolutely.