Can European Lawmakers Slay the Google Dragon?on September 9, 2014 at 9:04 pm
While the eyes of the technology world are focused today on Apple’s big event, Europeans are perhaps more concerned with another American tech giant.
Long the 100 lb gorilla in the room for Germans, Google is increasingly starting the attention of the wider European community. From privacy advocates to publishers, and financial questions to concerns over free trade, there are few companies that infuriate the the Eurozone than the dominant search force in Europe.
In the publishing field, the New York Times has one publisher comparing Google to a “Wagnerian dragon.” Poetic license, as one might expect from the literary world, but a case is certainly building for Google’s greedy, controlling nature, and the need for someone to fight back the beast.
Google Goes to Washington (and Brussels)
In anticipation of growing opposition to its activities in Europe, where the company controls around 90% of the search market, Google has been pursuing the same strategy overseas that has so far proved successful at home: loading up on lobbyists.
In Brussels, as in Washington, the expert opinion and think tank invoices are starting to pile up. Combined with the power of great PR to spin any attempt to regulate its actions as overreaching governments hell bent on stifling innovation or censoring the Internet, the company has proved to be a tough customer to regulate. With new privacy laws and a growing sentiment against it in Europe, however, the tide may be turning.
Going back to the aforementioned NYT article, it reads like a laundry list of the complaints we’ve been making against Google month after month. Consider the following charges leveled at the company across the various nations of Western Europe:
- Publishers in Germany are demanding that unauthorized text snippets from their books be removed from search results. The Google Books project faced a similar outcry from U.S. authors earlier this year.
- Lobbying expenses for the company in Brussels are increasing, with an estimate of $2 million every year still some way from the company’s DC spend, but demonstrating nonetheless a commitment to making friends in high places and influencing them as these issues arise. Late last year we examined just how much political muscle Google has been flexing in Washington in recent years.
- Privacy concerns are where this all started, at least as far as Germany’s ever-fraught relationship with Google goes. We’ve questioned several times just how committed to individual rights the company can be when it so frequently steps aside on matters of creative and intellectual property rights.
- Avoiding tax payments in the UK by routing minimal operations through Ireland has infuriated both politicians and creators in the country, who see it as failing to act on piracy and then failing to pay its bills in a fair manner.
The trend towards stifling American technology companies abroad is worrying, but in Google’s case it has built a reputation that now requires more than just warnings.
Much as the company refuses to take meaningful action against copyright infringement, despite having the vast resources to channel towards better protection for creators, it has also adopted an arrogant attitude away from home. Even when forced to comply with the European “Right to be Forgotten” law, Google behaved like a petulant child by going overboard with the new rules and removing articles by major media outlets from its search results. The underlying message is clear, and somewhat chilling from a company with such a stranglehold on the market is serves: bury your interference, or be buried in our search results.
Later this year, the third and final Hobbit movie will be released in movie theaters, in which the covetous dragon Smaug receives the defeat he is due. If Google continues down the unsympathetic, dominating path that is has been travelling for several years now, the company may find that consumers and lawmakers around the world find a way to slay the technological beast they see rising before them.