Google has ambitions – world domination is part of the plan but along the way it moved from being a search engine to being an advertising vehicle and that is where the money is.
Google via Search, Images, News, Alerts, Earth, Picasa, Talk, Groups, Docs, Gmail, Drive, Maps, YouTube, Translate, Toolbar, Mobile, Books, Shopping, Blogger, Photos, Videos, Calendar and in particular Android and Chrome all extend its opportunity to influence our shopping habits.
Quite some time ago (the action started in 1993 and concluded only recently) Microsoft was accused of anti-competitive action by the European Union for “abuse of its dominant position in the market”. The upshot was that Microsoft had to make parts of its operating system severable so that competitive products could be used i.e. Media Player replaced by Real Player or Internet Explorer replaced by Firefox etc. The lesson cost Microsoft US$3 billion or so in penalties plus all legal costs!
‘The Commission must do its part – It must not rely on one vendor, it must not accept closed standards and it must refuse to become locked into a particular technology….’
Microsoft also had similar actions against it by the U.S. Government mainly over Internet Explorer and if we judge Microsoft by its recent actions it appears to have understood the message – don’t unfairly stifle competition.
Fast forward to today
Microsoft appears to have donned the Sherriff’s badge and it and Nokia as part of FairSearch (a group of 17 search providers) are leading the anti-competitive crusade in Europe against Google on two counts – Android and by its very design that it locks other suppliers out of the mobile search and advertising cash cow (that is really Google’s raison d'être now).
FairSearch stated that “Google was using Android as a ‘Trojan horse’ for Google Apps” effectively forcing users to use Google products that in turn exposed them to more Google advertising. Can’t blame Google for trying but I suspect that this has the potential to cost it way more than EU's Microsoft fines especially as the EU is also investigating Google’s Search dominance as well.
FairSeach has been vocal “In addition to materially degrading the user experience and limiting consumer choice, Google’s search manipulation practices lay waste to entire classes of competitors in every sector where Google chooses to deploy them”. They cite that Google Searches demote rival search products and promote Google services over rivals.
Microsoft has been openly behind the SCROOGLED campaign that advises users that Google can’t be trusted in its pursuit of the holy advertising dollar. Things like ‘paid advertising results’, sharing personal information with advertisers, sharing information with app developers and more tend to shake the trust foundation. Of course Microsoft is totally altruistic in pointing these issues out as long as its products like Bing and Windows Phone don’t do the same thing. What’s that about people in glass houses you retort?
Analysts seem united on one thing – Google needs a “’cold hard slap” instead of ‘friendly horse-trading that stops short of sanctions’ that seems to have been the Commissions modus operandi to date.
If you are a ‘capitalist’ you must support free market forces – Governments should be mean and lean and leave commerce to fight it out – survival of the fittest. I think the EU is entitled to stir the pot and to temper Google’s aspirations but in the end consumers will vote with their ‘clicks’ as they have done in China and elsewhere supporting the local suppliers.
Since I started reporting on IT matters earlier this year however it has become clear to me at least that we all should be doing what we can to limit power in the hands of a few. Using ‘Open Source’ or paid products is one way (i.e. don’t use Google Docs and their productivity tools), perhaps using alternative search engines (I strongly suggest you look at the list of alternatives here ) like Bing (whoops that is Microsoft) and Yahoo (whoops that uses Bing) and reducing your Google intake (get rid of the search bar and Google Desktop for starters) may be a short term solution until Google proves it can be trusted (again).