Since most people have their sights set on Google, the crusading antitrust folks in Europe now have their sights set on the dominant search engine. There’s certainly some “not invented here” schadenfreude in some of the EU’s antitrust actions. Europe has come down hard on Microsoft, Apple, and now Google, all American companies. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
I’m going to focus here on Europe’s arguments about Google.com, the website. EU regulators are also poking at Android, primarily worried about how the OS now has 70 percent market share in Europe and how Google bundles all of its apps (like the Play Store, Maps, and Gmail) together. But Android isn’t nearly as successful here in the U.S.—it’s basically fifty-fifty with Apple’s iOS right now—while Google dominates in U.S. search with 68 percent of queries.
Let’s establish first that there are no monopolies here. Seventy percent is not a monopoly. Internet Explorer peaked at 95 percent of U.S. Web browser traffic— that’s a monopoly. Still, though, Google is the front page for most people’s Internet, which means it has a huge effect on where traffic goes and which websites succeed.
In brief, the EU says that Google is preferring its own products, like Google Shopping, in search results over competitors like Amazon and Best Buy. That would be bad, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg of the damage Google could do to the Web.
You can generally tell that a company knows it’s doing something wrong when it’s being disingenuous about it. For instance, here’s how it positions search: “There are numerous other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, Quora, DuckDuckGo, and a new wave of search assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.”
Some of that is quite silly, and trying to invent competition where there is none. Search is basically a duopoly: Bing powers Yahoo, Siri, and Cortana. DuckDuckGo’s market share is tiny, and who uses Quora as a search engine?
But the problem isn’t the monopoly. It’s how the monopoly gets leveraged. That’s what got Microsoft hit back in the 90s: leveraging its desktop OS position to force Internet Explorer, and not other browsers, onto PCs.
Microsoft has, more recently, been epically incompetent at leveraging its success in one field (such as desktop OSes) to produce another (such as mobile OSes.) The EU said as much when it cleared the merger of Microsoft and Nokia; Microsoft is too much of a loser in the mobile market to be a threat to competition, it said.
Google, on the other hand, is now in an excellent position to amplify its other businesses, like travel, shopping, and Local, by placing them at the top of search results. Google’s stats claim that simply hasn’t happened—that Google Shopping hasn’t been enough of a success to threaten anyone. And if that’s the case, fair enough.
But Google Shopping also has a critically dangerous underlying idea: that content should sit on the search results page, not on an underlying, linked-to separate website. That’s the nuclear weapon that could blow up the Web if deployed properly.
SOURCE: SASCHA SEGAN