Google Feels Noose Tighten in Italy, Brussels, China, U.S.

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-02-25

Google Feels Noose Tighten in Italy, Brussels, China, U.S.

News Analysis: When you're the hottest team in town, everyone is gunning for you. No, we're not talking about Major League Baseball's defending world champion New York Yankees, even as we look forward to the 2010 baseball season.

We're talking about Google. Through the first two months of 2010, Google is fending off assaults on its castle walls from all angles. The search engine, whose 80 percent worldwide market share (65 percent in the United States) often seems unassailable, is being rocked by a variety of adversaries.

Let's start with this week and work backwards.

The Italian Job

On Feb. 24, an Italian court convicted three Google executives of violating privacy laws.

The depressing thing about that case is that it represents an attack on the Internet more than anything else, setting a dangerous precedent that search engines such as Google are content providers susceptible to regulation.

Should Google monitor every piece of content its algorithms alight on? That is the question. Most people believe Google is in the right even as they argue not every control-the-Web case is so ridiculously myopic.

The Hustle in Brussels

On Feb. 23, we learned three Internet companies filed complaints with the Brussels-based European Commission alleging that the search engine is demoting their Websites in Google search results and not respecting fair competition. The EC, the antitrust watchdog of the European Union, agreed to look into the matter.

Google intimated this whole affair reeks of Microsoft and we agree. The great irony is that it may portend that Europe sees Google as the new Microsoft. John Briggs, a partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider who has worked on antitrust, competition and intellectual-property cases, told the Wall Street Journal: "Google seems to be this century's - or this decade's - new favorite antitrust target."

Xerox Says Google Copied Its Technology

On Feb. 19, printer and copier maker Xerox sued Google and Yahoo for patent infringement.

Xerox alleged Google's AdWords and AdSense violate a 2004 patent on a "system for automatically generating queries," while Google Maps and Google Video gouge a 2001 patent on a "method and apparatus for the integration of information and knowledge."

Xerox should not expect an easy resolution in these matters. Google and Yahoo own myriad patents and it's likely that they have patented technologies that are similar to the Xerox patents. But it's another sign of how Google is being targeted for successfully leveraging its Web services.

Google Book Search in Limbo

On Feb. 18, New York District Court Judge Denny Chin heard nearly 30 pleas from opponents and proponents of the Google Book Search deal without issuing a ruling, let alone tipping his hand as to which direction he was leaning.

We don't know when Chin will write and release an opinion, but all that means is that Google Book Search, the company's plan to digitize millions of out-of-print works is in a holding pattern until Chin rules. He could ask Google to revise the proposal, which would set the project back several months.

Googles Other Challengers


Microsoft, EU Ganging Up on Google

Earlier on Feb. 18, Microsoft and Yahoo got the green light from the European Commission and the Department of Justice for their joint search deal, giving the companies a combined 28 percent of the search market with which to combat Google.

If Microsoft and Yahoo can pull off this integration and Bing continues to gain market share, it could be a great coup versus the incumbent.

Google Buzz Battered By Privacy Backlash

Google released its Google Buzz social networking service in Gmail Feb. 9.

Since then it's been one privacy complaint after another, including a formal complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center to the Federal Trade Commission, a class-action lawsuit, and the revelation that children may be exposed on Buzz if their parents let them at it.

Google has parried every lunge with aplomb, made numerous changes and apologized even as it revealed some of the ignorance about how protective people outside of the company view their privacy.

Nevertheless, the privacy hounds are slavering over the chance to take Google down a few notches over Buzz, which users are actually using to great degree.

Google in China

Or should we say, the absence of Google in China, as the company has been backing off from product launches there. 

On Jan. 12, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said that Google will cease censoring results on, and will discuss with the Chinese government whether or not the company can continue to offer its search engine in China after a hack on Google's servers was revealed.

Exactly one week later, Google postponed the launch of two Android phones in China. On Feb. 24, Reuters revealed that Google was also abstaining from unveiling its Nexus One smartphone in Beijing.

These are small setbacks that may be a precursor to potentially huge ramifications if Google exits China entirely. That's a lot of mobile phone users and mobile searchers to miss.

Obviously, we are only two months into 2010, but Google has its hands full battling enemies and putting out fires.

This is probably not what the company envisioned, but Google has to deal with each issue with care lest it suffer additional blows to its image, let alone its business.   

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