German Official Says It May Be Time To Break Up Google… Just Because

from the huh? dept

Having already gone through antitrust investigations in both the US and in Europe, without facing any serious penalties (and having regulators more or less recognize that Google wasn’t doing anything anti-competitive), it appears that Google’s angry competitors are still going to keep trying. The latest is that a bunch of publishers in Europe demanded that the European Commission try again, while a top official in Germany, economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, announced that it was time to “break up” Google. Then, over the weekend, another top European politician, Martin Schulz, the center-left’s candidate to lead the European Commission after the EU parliamentary elections coming up shortly, argued that there need to be many more regulations on Google, because… well… because he doesn’t seem to like the company very much.

As always, when a company gets big, there are reasonable concerns about whether or not it may be abusing market power. But the problem here is that every time anyone actually looks into Google’s activities, they find no evidence of it abusing its market power in any way that harms consumers. Some companies tend to get upset that they’re not ranked high enough, or that consumers prefer Google’s competing services to their own. But there’s no evidence of consumer harm at all. The entirety of the antitrust argument against Google seems to be “well, the company is big.” And, for some in Europe, it seems to be “the company is big, and based in the US.” Again, that’s something worth watching, to make sure that Google doesn’t abuse its position, but for all the complaints, there never seems to be any evidence showing any actual consumer harm.

As for the argument about breaking up Google… well, good luck with that. I’m curious how Germany breaks up an American company. In fact Gabriel’s own spokesperson more or less admitted that Germany had no way to enforce a breakup, but that didn’t seem to be worth reconsidering the idea:

“With a breakup of Google the global dimension would naturally raise questions of enforceability,” Rouenhoff told reporters in Berlin. “Such a procedure would take a certain amount of time.”

There are times you think that Google might just be better off saying “okay, fine,” and blocking German IPs from reaching its services, just to see how the public would react. To date, Google has always made it clear that it would like to avoid that kind of gamesmanship. But, at times, you wonder if people realize what exactly they’re complaining about.

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Comments on “German Official Says It May Be Time To Break Up Google… Just Because”

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109 Comments
bob (profile) says:

OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

GOOG may be run by billionaires and it may be a defacto monopoly with almost all of the marketshare. That doesn’t matter around here. TechDirt has never shirked from a finding a defense for anything Google does.

Why? I don’t know. I think some competition would be great for the web. It would be neat to have more ad networks and more search engines. I’m sure everyone around here is all for competition and against monopolies. Heck, Mike constantly inveighs against copyright “monopolies” even though the term is not correct. But that’s different. Giving control to artists is bad for GOOG and so it must be fought with any rhetorical tricks. GOOG’s monopoly is good and so we must sneer at anyone who questions it.

Oh, BTW, and I love your suggestion that GOOG should just censor all of Germany to show who’s boss. Talk about power corrupting.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Hmm…let’s see if there is any competition for Google as a search engine:
https://www.google.com/search?q=search+engine&oq=search+engine&gs_l=serp.3..0i67l10.7012.7012.0.7318.1.1.0.0.0.0.121.121.0j1.1.0.ekp%2Ckpns%3D1000%2Ckpnss%3D100…0…1.1.43.serp..0.1.120.3sn2LQ15V8w

Look! Google will even help me find umm…652 million results looking for another search engine? There may, in fact, be some competition in this market.

bob says:

Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

You actually believe that GOOG has 652 million results waiting for you? That’s just another of their fibs. The last time I clicked through, the list of results stopped after 75 pages. This is why intersections or long lists of terms yield so little. It’s just part of their Potemkin game.

And why aren’t they top? Oh wait. They’re probably ginning up these results too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

” TechDirt has never shirked from a finding a defense for anything Google does.”

this is demonstratively untrue. techdirt was against Google’s no poaching agreement for example

keep repeating the lie Bob Goebbels and maybe someone will believe you

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Huh?

The commenter was talking about Microsoft’s monopoly on Windows. That’s nonsense talk — every company has a monopoly on their own product, rather by definition. The important question is — are there other competing products in the same space? With Windows, the answer is “yes”. This is a direct bananas to bananas comparison.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

fashion companies don’t have that kind of monopoly

and as I’ve said elsewhere operating systems for the most part cannot substitute for each other where apps are concerned. maybe if they someday unify the abis like browsers have done with scripting and markup

but for now there’s not a real substitute for windows

Bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Yup, that’s the standard crap around here. Artists are bad because copyright gives them a “monopoly”. But that’s a misuse of the term. Anyone can create another work of art and compete. Anyone can create another OS and people do. So they don’t have a monopoly.

Not that TechDirt has shied away from criticizing MS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Being able to produce an entirely different product in a market does not mean there aren’t monopolies in that space. a monopoly on cars would still be a monopoly if horse and buggies were readily available.

so too is a monopoly on Mickey mouse still a monopoly even if Warner bros can make looney toons

AricTheRed says:

Re: Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

We don’t think Artists are bad becase of copyright, We think they are bad because they went to art school.

At art school they had group sex, looked at naked people all day and took drugs and drank and partied while their parents paid for it all.

That is why we hate artists.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

“again a monopoly that only covers one operating system out of X number of operating systems is still a monopoly”

That’s just not what “monopoly” means. If it were, then “monopoly” wouldn’t be a very useful term. I think what you’re talking about is “lock-in” — also a bad thing, but different in nature.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

bob, May 19th, 2014 @ 12:51pm
OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

GOOG may be run by billionaires and it may be a defacto monopoly with almost all of the marketshare. That doesn’t matter around here. TechDirt has never shirked from a finding a defense for anything Google does.

Why? I don’t know. I think some competition would be great for the web. It would be neat to have more ad networks and more search engines. I’m sure everyone around here is all for competition and against monopolies. Heck, Mike constantly inveighs against copyright “monopolies” even though the term is not correct. But that’s different. Giving control to artists is bad for GOOG and so it must be fought with any rhetorical tricks. GOOG’s monopoly is good and so we must sneer at anyone who questions it.

Oh, BTW, and I love your suggestion that GOOG should just censor all of Germany to show who’s boss. Talk about power corrupting.

I wonder if any of the sheep will take notice of Masnick’s hypocrisy?

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Uh, that’s probably not what he’s referring to. He’s probably noting that Mr. Masnick constantly complains that artists are given “monopolies”, even though they’re really only given control over their own work. Other artists can compete and they do.

But let’s see Mr. Masnick go after GOOG’s monopoly with the same fervor. It ain’t gonna happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

except any complaints over artists being granted copyright (which Mike hasn’t actually complained about) would naturally apply to Google.

aside from IP, Google doesn’t really have a monopoly. there’s other search engines and ad services you could use, if not as good

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

He’s probably noting that Mr. Masnick constantly complains that artists are given “monopolies”,

Have I? I don’t think so. I question the wisdom of handing out gov’t-granted monopolies.

I similarly am worried about any monopolistic power that harms consumers and consumer rights. I think legitimate harm has and can easily be shown from copyright monopolies (such as how it’s used to hold back innovation and to enable censorship).

I’d be equally concerned if there were evidence of Google having a true monopoly, and it then abusing that power. The problem is the lack of such evidence, either of it being a true monopoly or of it abusing it.

Either way, creating a monopoly through building a better product that everyone wants to use is quite different than being handed a gov’t granted monopoly.

And, of course, I have no problem criticizing Google when I believe they’re abusing their position, such as with the initial Google books settlement, the employee poaching ban and Motorola’s patent policies — all of which I thought were anti-innovation moves by Google, and all of which I wrote about here.

But, you know, feel free to live in your own world where the best you can do is smear with me lies. Must be fun.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

These include search engine, blogging, online document editing and storage, video streaming and hosting, browser…

“Big” =/= “monopoly.”

“Monopoly” = sole control of supply to market of particular goods and services.

That Google is the best at what it does suggests that the other companies aren’t trying hard enough. Hell, they even let Bing away with copying their search algorithms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

Irrational hatred apparently impairs reading and comprehension. This is not a story about Google–it’s about the stupidity of a German official. Google is just the object, not the subject.

Just like the statement “bob hates Google” is about bob, not Google.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

The point is, if the official had targeted MS, IBM, Apple, or any other US company, or for that matter any company not based in Germany, the story would be the same. While the article correctly pointed out that Google has not been found guilty, that’s not the point of the article.

JMT says:

Re: OMG!!! Scramble the Defenses

“I think some competition would be great for the web. It would be neat to have more ad networks and more search engines.”

And there is absolutely nothing stopping that from happening. If you think otherwise, please explain why.

“Giving control to artists is bad for GOOG and so it must be fought with any rhetorical tricks.”

Techdirt has consistently and repeatedly supported giving more control to artists. To argue otherwise is monumentally stupid. And how is that bad for Google anyway? Do you have any rational explanations for these wild claims of yours?

“Oh, BTW, and I love your suggestion that GOOG should just censor all of Germany to show who’s boss.”

It’s like you learnt the word ‘censorship’ yesterday, and have no idea what it means. If Germany was blocked from Google, how exactly are they censored? They would still have unlimited access to the entire web including multiple other search engines. I’m sure Germans would be pissed (which would be the point)but they certainly wouldn’t be censored.

“Talk about power corrupting.”

Wait, who’s corrupted? Do you even understand what you’re typing?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Ask and ye shall receive

Comcast

LOBBYING(2013): $18,810,000

REVOLVING DOOR
107 out of 130 Comcast Corp lobbyists in 2013 have previously held government jobs

TOP ISSUES LOBBIED, 2013

1. Telecommunications
2. Radio & TV Broadcasting
3. Taxes
4. Copyright, Patent & Trademark
5. Fed Budget & Appropriations

Google

LOBBYING(2013): $15,800,000

89 out of 111 Google Inc lobbyists in 2013 have previously held government jobs

TOP ISSUES LOBBIED, 2013

1. Copyright, Patent & Trademark
2. Telecommunications
3. Labor, Antitrust & Workplace
4. Homeland Security
5. Science & Technology

Pretty similar on the ‘donations’ front right? Well…

Comcast – Market Cap $130.01 B As of May 2014
Google – Market Cap $382.47 B As of May 2014

So, despite being worth almost three times as much, Google still spends less money lobbying than Comcast does.

Sources:
https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?cycle=2014&id=D000000461
https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?cycle=2014&type=P&id=D000022008
http://www.forbes.com/companies/google/
http://www.forbes.com/companies/comcast/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ask and ye shall receive

This sort of comparison doesn’t work very well anymore, as Google spends so much money on non-registered lobbying-type activity. For example, it took a court order to reveal Mike Masnick’s role as Google propagandist, something that was previously only assumed, due to the content of his daily writings.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Ask and ye shall receive

It’s all they’ve got. It’s funny, I’ve seen a LOT of trolls over the years making various accusations about Mike and Techdirt — but I have yet to see a single instance of those accusations being argued in a coherent way, let alone actually supported. In the end, the supporting arguments always boil down to “well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”.

Which means they got nothing.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'Look, a distraction!'

Ah the classic response, presented with facts, you instead make citation-less accusations rather than address said facts.

Just a heads up, but if you want people to take you and what you claim seriously, accusations like those generally need to be linked to verifiable evidence, unless you want them to be dismissed out of hand as the desperate distractions that they are.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ask and ye shall receive

For example, it took a court order to reveal Mike Masnick’s role as Google propagandist,

This of course is untrue. You won’t point to the document because it proves it’s untrue, but you can’t resist the bullshit narrative, because it’s all you have.

Anyway, since you won’t link to the document in question, I will: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120824/12563220150/apparently-im-google-shill-i-didnt-even-know-it.shtml

Because there’s nothing in there that remotely suggests what you pretend it suggests.

something that was previously only assumed, due to the content of his daily writings

The content of which regularly calls out Google for questionable behavior…

Come on, dude, by now don’t you have anything better than bogus claims like this that are so easily debunked?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ask and ye shall receive

You know people can actually click those links and read them, right?

Google was ordered to ‘…disclose the names of any “authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in [the] case.”

So if reporting and commenting on the actions of someone makes you a ‘shill’ for them, then TD apparently shills for countless groups, from Google, to the *AA’s, GEMA to the Pirate party.

Or perhaps you’re talking about this part?

Earlier today, Google did its filing and apparently found some names… including mine! Yes, I know that we’ve had some haters declaring for years that I’m a Google shill, so this must be the confirmation of all their conspiracy theories, rumors and attacks, right? Well, no. I’m named in the section about CCIA — the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Why? Because CCIA sponsored some research that we did.

Aha, evidence at last!

… as long as you don’t read past that anyway.

I’m not sure how that has anything to do with Google. Google is a CCIA member, as are a bunch of other companies. And, honestly, if you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that I thought Oracle was a CCIA member too, because it’s an organization that represents a bunch of top tech companies, including Microsoft, eBay, Sprint, Facebook, AMD, Fujitsu, Dish Networks and more.

Truly, the checks must just be coming out of the woodwork with all that shilling. /s

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ask and ye shall receive

How about a link to the court document?

Sure. That was linked to in my post as well. Note that nowhere does it say I am a Google shill or even that I had received any money from Google. As I noted, we actually received money from Oracle in the form of sponsorship, which Oracle did not disclose (though, of course, we did).

I recognize this may cause problems with your narrative, but that’s because your narrative is false. But go ahead, keep pushing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Ask and ye shall receive

“My narrative”?

I wasn’t named in a court-ordered Google shill list. I don’t have a blog where I write daily articles trying to back up Google’s corporate agenda.

Your narrative has been written by you, and you alone, via your own actions and decisions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Ask and ye shall receive

“I wasn’t named in a court-ordered Google shill list.”

Yes you were.

If you wish to disprove this, please reveal your name. Else, if you’re too cowardly to even provide your name, why should we believe that you’re not employed by Google, or paid to spread lies about Mike by a competitor. Given zero evidence, I have to assume you’re a paid lair rather than a mere simpleton, but I might be wrong.

” I don’t have a blog where I write daily articles trying to back up Google’s corporate agenda.”

Neither does Mike Masnick. Won’t stop you lying about him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ask and ye shall receive

Thank you for that link. From the first paragraph:
“Google again states that neither it nor its counsel has paid an author, journalist, commentator or blogger to report or comment on any issues in this case.”

And from the second paragraph:
“Google did not pay for comments from any of the commenters listed in this disclosure. Nor did Google cite or rely on any of these commenters in its briefing in this case.”

I don’t even think the NSA could come up with a twisted enough reading of that to conclude that anyone named in that list is a “Google propagandist”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Ask and ye shall receive

So in other words you don’t actually have any proof, it’s just a case of ‘trust me, they’re doing X’.

Here’s a question though: Why? Why bother going through all the trouble of sneaking around and hiding it, something that would likely come back and bite any company that engaged in such when/if it was found out, when they could simply spend more money lobbying?

(And if you want to talk about backroom deals, Silicon Valle has nothing on Hollywood, they’ve got government agencies dancing left and right to their tune, even though they contribute significantly less to US economy than the tech sector.)

I mean, it’s not like they’re hurting for funds, and yet you’re claiming that rather than just throw more money out buying politicians(because let’s face it, that’s what most lobbying amounts to), something they could easily manage without trouble, they’re instead going the cloak and dagger route, hiring bloggers under the table to say good and bad things about them?

Look, the facts of the matter here are pretty clear, Comcast spends more money lobbying than a company three times their size, claiming that the ‘numbers aren’t accurate’ because they’re not taking into account the shady deals you’re sure are happening is, at best, a dodge to avoid addressing the facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the big differences between a comcast monopoly and a google monopoly is the cost for the consumer to switch to another provider. For comcast, the cost is infinitely high as, for most people in the US, there is no other provider they can switch to. For google, the cost is almost zero: type “duckduckgo.com” rather than “google.com” into the address bar. If google started being really evil, its users would leave, followed by its advertisers. Thus, to a large extent, google has a merit-based monopoly: they dominate because they do search the best without screwing their users.

And no, I am not google shill. I’ve switched almost entirely to duckduckgo, dropped gmail, etc. because of privacy concerns. Which, anecdotally at least, supports my point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t it time that Google bowed out of Europe?

Imagine not having to censor results due to “hate speech” and “right to be forgotten” laws. Run all business and serve all content from within the United States, relying on its Constitution to protect them against foreign judgments that, if decided by a US court, would be deemed unconstitutional.

Mr. Oizo says:

Something needs to be done. Just have a look at how many developers get fucked by google. No payouts, developer accounts terminated without even recourse to complain about this. This one sided termination (part of the contract google forces through your throat) should not be allowed. This is something the EU could enforce, which would be a good start.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t understand ppl’s argument that Google is a monopoly, because yet u have a choice to use Google or not. There are other search engines, There are other advertising networks, There are other options for every type of service google offers. However, in most cases, there are no other options if you want to switch I SP or cable provider.

STJ says:

monopoly?

I’ve always questioned this about Google. Don’t like their search engine, use dogpile/bing/alta vista. Don’t like them watching your mail, go to yahoo/hotmail/freemail. Don’t want to use their maps, use yahoo/other mail.

It’s true that other companies are not as convent as Google for their products, but there are plenty of alternatives, don’t believe me, just Google it.

Jbiddy says:

Advertising and publishing

Breaking up Google… just because? Yeah, right. Curious that there is absolutely no mention of click fraud, Google’s settlements in the past, and the fact that the company is advertiser, operating of the ad network and publisher, a huge conflict of interest that gives them an advantage over all other ad networks and undeniably pads their bottom line in the short term.

What about Google suing other ad networks over patent infringement? This article is laughable in its lack of analysis and research.

No harm to consumers? Is not the fact that Google has changed their practices time and time again when threatened with antitrust investigations not evidence that there is grounds for such investigations?

Don’t give Google a pass just because you hate M$ or Yahoo! more, that’s silly. Point out abuse, wherever it may come from. Google should not be an exception. Tyranny is tyranny, let it come from whom it may.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Advertising and publishing

Yeah, right. Curious that there is absolutely no mention of click fraud, Google’s settlements in the past, and the fact that the company is advertiser, operating of the ad network and publisher, a huge conflict of interest that gives them an advantage over all other ad networks and undeniably pads their bottom line in the short term.

We linked to the stories of Google’s settlements. Not sure what you’d like us to discuss concerning clickfraud or the supposed conflict of interest, but happy to explore them if you’d like.

What about Google suing other ad networks over patent infringement? This article is laughable in its lack of analysis and research.

Can you point to any such lawsuits. As far as I can tell, Google has never initiated a patent infringement lawsuit against an ad network, ever. It got sued by Overture for its ad patents, but not the other way around. The only patent lawsuit that Google appears to have initiated was via its Motoroloa subsidiary (since sold off), and I spoke out against that move.

If Google was suing others for patent infringement, I’d be first in line to argue that they were doing something incredibly stupid.

So, after saying that this article is laughable for a lack of research, can you provide a citation on the patent lawsuits against ad networks filed by Google?

No harm to consumers? Is not the fact that Google has changed their practices time and time again when threatened with antitrust investigations not evidence that there is grounds for such investigations?

Can you give an example of this?

Don’t give Google a pass just because you hate M$ or Yahoo! more, that’s silly. Point out abuse, wherever it may come from. Google should not be an exception. Tyranny is tyranny, let it come from whom it may.

I agree that Google shouldn’t be an exception. And, as I’ve said from the beginning, if you can provide any evidence of it creating consumer harm, then it’s worth considering. But I’ve yet to see any such evidence to date, and nothing in the arguments made above showed any such harm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Under certain conditions, breaking up a company can actually harm competition. Case in point: Google is providing some degree of competition to Microsoft in the laptop market through its sale of Chromebooks. Microsoft has about a 90% market share in the laptop operating system market. If you were to weaken Google by breaking them up, they would have less resources to spend on pushing Chromebooks; this would harm consumers. I wouldn’t care if Google was broken up as long as you looked at every market they’re competing in to a meaningful degree and broke up their competition as well.

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