EU Parliament Wants To Break Up Google… Because It's Big & American Or Something
from the gotta-any-better-reason? dept
On Friday, the Financial Times broke the story that the European Parliament is going to call for breaking up Google. Of course, the European Parliament can’t actually do that, but it appears designed to put pressure on the EU Commission, which has been talking about antitrust actions against Google for quite some time. While it had looked like there was a settlement earlier this year, those plans more or less appeared to fall apart. Just recently, we wrote about efforts to force Google to change some of its search results in Europe — and noted how problematic it gets when governments start telling search engines how to program their algorithms.
But, actually breaking up Google would go a hell of a lot further. The idea had been floated earlier this year by a top German official, but who would have thought anyone would take it seriously.
And here’s the thing: as far as I can tell, there isn’t any real reason for trying to break up Google, other than the fact that it’s very big and very not European.
There’s no discussion about any actual harm… just the fact that some people don’t like the fact that the company is so big (and not European):
Since his nomination to be the EU?s digital commissioner, Germany?s G?nther Oettinger has suggested hitting Google with a levy for displaying copyright-protected material; has raised the idea of forcing its search results to be neutral; and voiced concerns about its provision of software for cars.
If they were alleging real consumer harm, that would be one thing, but no one seems to be discussing that.
The NY Times has more details on the expected resolution, which talks about “unbundling” Google’s various other services from the search engine:
The language in the draft resolution calling for the break up of powerful search engines does not attack Google directly. Instead, according to a version seen by The New York Times, the resolution calls on the European Commission ?to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services? to introduce more competition into online search in Europe.
The resolution was written by Andreas Schwab, a member of the center-right European People?s Party from Germany, where powerful publishing groups have strongly campaigned for measures to rein in Google?s market power.
If true, then it seems that Microsoft — one of the leading drivers behind antitrust actions in Europe — may have shot itself in the foot here, since it, too, is a “search engine” that has plenty of other “commercial services.”
While I do think antitrust is an important tool in stopping abusive monopolistic powers that block out any and all competition, it seems only reasonable that you should at least have to show some sort of actual consumer harm. Furthermore, it’s difficult to see how this plan would actually do what its backers seem to want to accomplish. Breaking up Google, if it can even be done realistically, doesn’t magically lead to more search engines in the market. There are lots of upstart search engines out there trying — we hear about new ones all the time. And they’re not, in any way, “blocked” by Google. So what would this move do other than punish Google for being successful?