What with politicians’ past mistakes and an expansion policy taking advantage of the darkest part of the web, the relationship between Google and the European and US governments has become increasingly complex and aggressive, considering all charges, regulations and reactions. Here is what has been going on on both sides of the Ocean
Over the past years, the US government and the European Union have been wondering how to restrict Google increasing power. Marking the boundaries between market freedom and a monopoly which may endanger competitors and citizens is, actually, pretty difficult. However, governmental resolutions and also their silence sometimes, have affected the way the internet has developed up to today’s configuration. (What the U.S. missed with Google).
US government charges
Back in 2013, during Barack Obama’s office, the Federal Trade Commission carried out an investigation concerning alleged Google’s abuse of power but then was forced to aquit . The point is that, despite the warning signs, no openly illegal elements were identified and no limit was set by the government. At the moment there are three antitrust lawsuits pending against Google, concerning some behaviours enacted by the Mountain View giant over the past years. We are mainly talking about sales agreements ( for instance with Apple and Android ) aimed at expanding and consolidating its control over mobile search functions. Nevertheless, Google has always defended its own positions by claiming that it was all done to the benefit of consumers. Anyway, in hindsight, we can argue that a different resolution by the FTC ten years ago could have opened different scenarios – maybe better? – with regard to the web evolution. (How Washington fumbled the future).
The UE at action
Being related to a global resource, this matter has obviously crossed the American borders. In December 2020, the European Commission put forward two law propositions aimed at regulating the Internet: the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). We are talking a twofold objective: making the digital market (DMA) competition more open and flexible and protecting users’ interests (DSA). More specifically, the Digital Markets Act, which shall be enforced by the EU Commission, focuses on platforms featuring at least 45 million monthly active users: its target is to help new competitors access the market. The Digital Services Act, falling under the jurisdiction of local authorities, protects users monitoring the respect of the privacy law along with platforms transparency and reliability. In both cases, penalties applied in case of breach of the laws are relevant. The two projects are complementary, and they should move forward simultaneously, although their discussion and approval may take time. (What the European DSA and DMA proposals mean for online platforms).
Google: attacking and reversing
On its part, Google has not appreciated the UE move, guided by Thierry Breton, the Commissioner for the internal market. Both the Financial Times and Le Point have published a document issued by the company aimed at weakening the law proposals, concerning the Internet regulation, put forward by the EU Commission, by means of some pressure by its lobbyists. Such moves are perfectly lawful, but they would not contribute positively to the communication with the European Institutions. Hence, Google’s decision to take a step back: CEO Sundar Pichai apologized to Breton, who claimed the company strategy was not coming as a surprise. Incident cleared, apparently. (Google CEO apologises for document, EU’s Breton warns internet is not Wild West).
What can be inferred is, anyway, how powerful the Big Tech lobbies are. Even though Pichai himself admitted that the Internet cannot be such a “Wild West” forever, it is still difficult to imagine the regulatory activity will be easy and smooth from now on.
Should governments and international bodies play hard ball against Google to put some boundaries to its power? Tweet @agostinellialdo
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