EU Antitrust Case Against Google Shopping Much Ado About Very Little

NEWS ANALYSIS: The European antitrust case is surprisingly minor, very thin, and more related to local politics than about Google business practices.

Google Antitrust B

As is usually the case when a news event takes place that relatively few people understand, the Internet fills with prophesies of doom while unbridled fear and unfounded gossip circulates among bloggers and on social media.

This is what's happening now that the European Union's governing body, the European Commission, announced that it was sending Google a Statement of Objections relating to the way it does a tiny part of its business.

Specifically, the EC will allege that Google is giving preferential treatment to its lightly- used shopping service, Google Shopping. Never heard of Google Shopping, you say? That's probably because it's easy to miss. But just so you'll know, when you enter the name of a product and see a row of photos and prices in the search results, that may be Google Shopping. Or, it might be something else.

In my experience Google Shopping provides a necessary service by presenting poorly- priced options. By using Google Shopping, you'll know how much is too much to pay. That's it. That's the totality of the European complaint. There's also an Android complaint that's expected shortly based on the default location of icons on smartphones. Google is strongly disagreeing with the EC on both Search and Android.

The hue and cry that you're hearing from European politicians is not really related to any ongoing antitrust action. In fact, my experience has been that this anti-American rhetoric is strictly for local consumption. Politicians in Europe can get votes by running against Washington, just as they can in the U.S.

The reason is simple: Since Europe doesn't really have a capital city, and because Europe's EU President is only in office for six months, they don't have an equivalent political target. So Washington, and by extension anything American, is the next best thing.

The reason that more responsible folks are paying attention to all of this is because it's always possible that two things might happen. One is that the EC might impose a penalty on Google. The other is that Google might make changes to its search engine algorithms.

If the EC imposes a fine against Google, the appeals will take decades, during which time nothing will happen. If Google decides to make changes unilaterally, then users may have to adjust. According to former White House official Karen Evans, the possibility that Google may make changes in the face of the EU complaints means that CIOs will have to be prepared for changes in how they manage search functions.

"Everyone is watching this and it’s a risk," Evans said. She said it could affect budgeting if IT organizations in both the private and public sectors find they need to do more than usual to keep their search-related functions optimized.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...