On the one hand the EU’s attempts to regulate the California based tech giant and its exploits of steering the market towards its own advertising company through the manipulation of search algorithms are welcome and seen as more than fair by many.
Why? Because “by artificially and illegally promoting its own price comparison service in searches, Google denies both its consumers real choice and rival firms the ability to compete on a level playing field.”
The investigation, which has been going on for close to a decade, will no doubt further implicate Google which to date dominates search results in Europe. It is also perhaps the start of future investigations into other laws the company might be in breach of. More importantly, because Google plays a crucial role in what most of us see, read and purchase online, there are very few limits to Google's potential abuse of power.
The basis of the investigation is an analysis of more than 1.7 billion search queries, which found that Google has systematically been giving prominence to its own comparison shopping service and placing competitors further down the organic search results. There has also been specific evidence of certain competitors’ websites experiencing a sudden drop in traffic, though these have not been named, nor has there been an indication of the period of time during which the drop in traffic occurred.
However, the European Commission has recently been accused of targeting US-based tech companies, such as requesting that Apple pay back $14.5 billion in back taxes in Ireland, opening an investigation into Amazon’s tax practices in Europe and raising concerns over Facebook’s gathering and handling of data when it bought out WhatsApp. It seems that the EU is laying down a more hands on approach to controlling how digital companies operate and this sure won’t be the last we see of their investigations.
It should also be noted that Google’s competitors do not compete with Google in shopping, they compete with Google in advertising. Or at least they try to. They have a bone to pick with the most advanced search engine in the world in the way that Google provides the best and most valuable search results which extends to best-value-for-money products.
Google is no longer a medium through which we acquire information, it has become a condition that we cannot live without. It collects data about our shopping preferences, our most viewed content and our overall online behaviour so this is where the fine line between being good at advertising and Google ‘abusing’ its power as a search engine lies.
This is by no means a huge blow to Google’s $90 billion annual revenue, and it probably won’t make Google any less competitive than it is today. And yet, this could well be the beginning of exposing the secrets of some of the most powerful empires on the Internet today.