If you want a sign that Google is past its prime, you got it today: The EU is investigating it for antitrust.
Remember Microsoft: The EU took 11 years investigating it — during which time, the web was born — and by the time it finished in 2004 and brought its mighty hand down upon the mighty Microsoft, the market had already done the job, thank you. Microsoft was a has-been, a joke as a monoplist, a laggard legacy company left behind by new technology, a threat to no one but itself.
Now the EU is going after Google. No surprise. One thing that has surprised me lately is the anti-Googlism (read: anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism) I’ve seen reflected in the nasty rhetoric over Google’s Street View. In my trips to Germany and talks there, I regularly heard that Google is too big (can someone please send me to the statute that defines big and thus too big?) — not too big to fail but too big to live in Europe. I’ve also heard people say they don’t want Google making money on them (but it’s OK for the corner store or the local newspaper to?).
Now the crows come home to roost with this EU investigation. But as Danny Sullivan argues in a wonderfully smart-assed and logical post, the EU is going after this search engine for acting like a search engine. When he searches for cars, Google has the audacity not to point to other search engines. It points to car sites! Bad Google, Bad.
And what if Google does point to its own businesses: YouTube, shopping comparison, Gmail, whatever. That’s business. Yahoo points to Yahoo; I’ve sat in meeting with them back in the early days of the web when they bragged about how they could point their “firehose” at their own stuff. The New York Times points to The New York Times. Microsoft links to Microsoft. So?
Remember that it was Google that created the ethic of search results untainted by business. Its model before that was GoTo/Overture, which *sold* search position. Analysts thought they were nuts — Commies, maybe — when Google decided *not* to tell search position out of some strange sense of ethics.
So now the EU wants to take Google’s own standard and interpret it against Google? Where the hell does this?
Last night, someone said to me something I also hear a lot: that search is a utility and utilities need to be regulated. Europeans reflexively regulate.
But Google isn’t a utility. There are plenty of other, competitive search engines. The fact that Google has 90+% penetration in Europe is the choice of the market, nothing Google did through unfair advantage.
And — shades of the Microsoft case — Google is being challenged now by other means of discovery: namely us sharing links through social means. Google is no longer the all-powerful Oz of the internet. The EU’s timing is impecable.
Now there is one arena in which Google does have much power: advertising. It’s not as effective to market on Bing as it is on Google. And I’ve said before — just yesterday — that I think Google would be wise to establish a Constitution and Bill of Rights and channel of appeal of its decision on advertisers so it cannot be accused of manipulating things behind the scenes through its sole power.
In that sense, Google is not a utility. It is law. And laws require principles and means of appeal. That’s what I said yesterday and what I’ll argue again in this case. Google would be wise to be more transparent about its advertising rules and decisions (not its algorithms but its judgments) and open up that process to trusted outsiders. Google needs a court.
But now the EU is looking to take them to court. Oh, boy.