The revelation by a top Google engineer that the search company is planning to hire thousands of engineers in Europe is partly a political move to endear itself to the European Union.
That was the assessment by some experts who believe Google wants to avoid the moves Microsoft made to draw the continents ire and make it the subject of a $613 million fine by the European Commission for failing to meet interoperability requirements with other software products overseas.
Nelson Mattos, Googles new head of engineering in Europe, raised eyebrows on Sept. 26 when he told the Financial Times that he intends to hire thousands of engineers to beef up Googles European operations to put them on par with those in the United States.
That proclamation stood contrary to the companys stance from its second-quarter earnings conference call in July, when Google executives vowed to watch its rising headcount. Apparently, that didnt apply to Europe, where Google engineers account for only 500 of 7,000 worldwide. Google currently employs more than 13,700 workers.
Read more here about whats next for Google.
Mattos told the Times, "We are not seen correctly in Europe. My impression is that Google is seen as a big U.S. company that is here to make money."
The official line, a Google spokesperson told eWEEK, is: "We are hiring more engineers in Europe because there is a great talent base here. We look forward to them working on global projects as well as improving services for European users."
But one analyst said Mattos comment spoke volumes about how Google wants to cozy up to Europe, where its site reaches 70 percent of the Internet audiences in France and Germany, according to numbers released from comScore on Oct. 1.
"Google does not want to be perceived as an aggressive U.S. company that is simply trying to dominate the European market," Michael D. Osterman, an analyst with Osterman Research, told eWEEK.
Osterman noted Microsofts troubles in the European marketplace, especially a European courts decision to uphold a 2004 European Commission $613 million judgment.
"It may be Google trying to exploit Microsofts difficulty and trying to be a more trusted entity over there," he said. "Microsoft has made some serious mistakes along the way and I think Google has learned from them."
"Trusted" is an interesting word choice, given the way Google, of Mountain View, Calif., is habitually hounded for privacy concerns because of the way it stores data on users searches for months.
Ovum Research analyst David Bradshaw told eWEEK that there hasnt been much issue over privacy in the UK.
"But I think its a completely different story over in France, which is much less accepting of overseas companies," Bradshaw said. "There is a bit more of a not invented here attitude to some of the technology there, although that is evolving. There is much more of a culture of trying to use local technology where you can. But that varies against Germany, which is growing very nicely for Google at the moment. Theyve seen pretty strong revenue growth there."
Googles poor reputation in privacy likely sparked the company last month to send its top privacy emissary, Peter Fleischer, to Strasbourg, France, to pledge allegiance to APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Privacy Framework).
Analysts such as Bradshaw applauded that move, but noted that Google needs to lead from the front on privacy as opposed to reacting to it.
"Its a way for them to wrongfoot some of their competitors by going well ahead of the what EU are asking them to do," he said.
But neither Bradshaw nor Osterman are sure how hiring thousands of programmers will help the companys positioning.
Google endorses Asia-Pac privacy framework. Click here to read more.
"I dont see how expanding into Europe is going to address that directly, although I guess if they become entrenched enough and hire enough people, then its going to be more difficult to take legislative action against them because now youre threatening European jobs," Osterman said.
He also said another issue in Googles expansion into Europe may be tied to the difficulty associated with bringing foreign nationals into the United States. Osterman said Google may be following the lead of Microsoft, which opened up a design center in Vancouver, B.C., recently because of the Redmond, Wash., companys inability to acquire H-1B visas for software developers.
"By expanding into Europe, Google may find it simpler to acquire software development talent and not slow down development," Osterman said. "Google has a lot of irons in the fire right with their mail offering, Apps, Gears, etc."
To say that Google has lot of irons in the fire is no overstatement, leading to other reasons Google would want to get into Europe.
If the company is building a mobile operating system and is serious about competing with wireless incumbents to sell a Google-branded mobile phone, Google will want to have a strong push in Europe, whose citizens are generally quick to embrace new wireless services for their handsets.
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