EU Antitrust Case Against Google Shopping Much Ado About Very Little

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-04-15 Print this article Print
Google Antitrust

Evans oversaw the $71 billion federal IT budget as the former administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology in the President George W. Bush Administration. Her position was the precursor to the office of U.S. Chief Information Officer, which was created by President Barack Obama.

But it's only a risk if Google thinks it's going to lose and makes changes. According to Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and a long-time antitrust lawyer, the EU case against Google may well go nowhere. "It's a little bit odd and a little bit weak," Black said in reference to the EU case.

Black said that EU antitrust lawyers tend to be focused on the facts of the case and the requirements of the law. The fact that Google is both an American company and also very large shouldn't have an impact, Black said. "It does not seem to make a compelling case," Black said. Antitrust law is supposed to be enforced equally for all players. It isn't supposed to be used just "for big guys we don't like," Black said.

However, Black also noted that there's a growing protectionist climate in Europe that's a cause for worry. But he noted that this has led to a change in how antitrust is working in Europe. "It's unfortunate that antitrust has become a business strategy rather than a way to go after abuse," he said. "Now it's just a way to tie competitors up in knots."

So what's really going on here? Two things, really. The EU has a new Competition Chief, Margrethe Vestager, and she's just taken over the Google antitrust matter. Vestager's predecessor was trying to swing a deal with Google to avoid any antitrust issues. Vestager has said that she wants to proceed more formally. In addition, going after Google is politically safe, regardless of the outcome.

But it's worth noting that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already investigated similar charges against Google, and it chose not to proceed because of a lack of any evidence that anyone was harmed. Black said he thinks the outcome in Europe will be the same. "As long as they stay focused on existing law and on the real facts the outcome will be defensible," Black said.

In reality, the complaints against Google are as much related to pressure by European politicians to rein in Google. Those politicians are unhappy because of the cultural impact of Google and not because the company broke the law. So it's likely that the current action will eventually come to nothing. But in the process the case will help demonstrate that the government is doing something even if there's little it can do.

"The disruptive nature of the Internet causes change and sometimes change makes people angry," Black said. "It may be good, but it doesn't necessarily leave people feeling warm and fuzzy."



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