The official text does not mention Google by name. However, the message is clearly directed at the company that claims 93 % of the European Search Market. The European Parliament has called on the EC “to consider proposals aimed at distancing search engines from commercial services.”
It was the EU’s goal to create what it called a “level-playing field” for other search providers. The EU is concerned that Google uses search to unfairly drive traffic to its services in favor of the competition, as Google’s competitors have voiced their concerns.
However, the recommendations go further and address how search engines should function in order to “ensure that indexation, evaluation, and presentation by search engines are unbiased and transparent.”
It would mean that the EU would decide how Google’s algorithms work and which results are returned for any search. This would be clearly beyond the EU’s scope and impossible to implement without severely restricting Google in the process.
The non-binding vote does not have any impact on Margretha Vestager, European Competition Commissioner. Her spokesperson said that the Commission investigations would determine how she applies the law and not politics. She has not made it clear whether she supports splitting Google into two companies because this would be extremely difficult to accomplish and unlikely to lead to the desired results of the EU.
The EU’s vision for a digital single market
Search engines were only a small part of EU Parliament’s plans to create a consumer-friendly digital single market in Europe. The EU estimates that this market would bring Europe 260 billion Euros in annual savings. The EU faces significant challenges here if it thinks it can bring about this innovation without the dominant players.
The European Parliament acknowledges that the “app economy” alone in Europe is expected to triple revenue between 2013 and 2018, creating 3,000,000 jobs during the same period. Who controls the “app economy” then? Google, Apple, and Android.
The document also mentions the need to “foster mass adoption of cloud-based computing in Europe as it is a powerful engine for growth of the European Economy”. Who is the leader in cloud computing again? Amazon.
If Europe is to create a digital marketplace, it must rely on the dominant technology players, and these are all Americans.
The past is important. Microsoft vs the EU
Even if it is reluctant to accept its future, the EU should remember its past. It was in its long fight with Microsoft that it attempted to regulate what it perceived as a technological monopoly. The EU reduced the significance of the PC revolution in that case to Microsoft’s Media Player and Internet Explorer, its browser.
The EU decided that Microsoft must provide Windows versions that “unbundled’ the Windows Media Player, and offer consumers a choice in browser. This was never going to have a significant impact on Microsoft, the consumers, or the digital economy. The focus on these technologies became obsolete with the advent of mobile phones, and Microsoft’s monopoly was rendered largely moot.
Technology, Politics, and Law
The case against Microsoft demonstrated that politics and the law cannot shape the technology landscape. First, there is no understanding of the technology landscape. Second, politicians and lawmakers do not know how to best direct technology for maximum and equitable benefit. Technology moves too fast for committees to keep pace.
The language used by the EU in its recommendations for the single digital marketplace shows their lack of understanding. Even the idea of a single market for digital is a marketing strategy to hide the true agenda, which is to protect and grow European companies against US dominance.
Leave the big stuff to the professionals and sweat the small things.
The digital economy has real problems to solve in terms of intellectual property, privacy, and, yes, even the misuse of market power. The EU should focus on what they can do to help develop European companies that could compete with current leaders. To start, funding and promoting research, education and development is a solid foundation. Not artificially handicapping the competition.