The EU’s Competition Commissioner said her team analysed a gigantic 5.2 terabytes of search results before determining that Google had indeed abused its position by running its Shopping service price comparison ads at the top of search results.
That’s the equivalent of nearly two billion search queries.
As news that she had fined its parent company Alphabet a record 2.4bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) spread, it became clear that many thought the case against the tech firm was obvious without needing to dive that deep into the data.
But others perceive the penalty to be unfair and even prejudicial against the US, despite the fact several American firms had spoken out against Google in advance of the ruling.
For its part, Google says it does not accept the criticism and may appeal.
Below is a sample of the early reactions to the news culled from emailed press releases, social media, blogs and elsewhere.
“For over a decade Google has abused and leveraged its monopoly power in search – where it has a 95% market share in Europe… The commission’s decision will finally put a stop to that abusive conduct, and it will enable those competitors that have survived despite Google’s behaviour, as well as new entrants, to compete on their merits,” Thomas Vinje, legal counsel to Fairsearch, a group of internet businesses that have lobbied against Google.
“Further legal action will be needed if Google tries to circumvent the commission’s verdict. It will be important to have a very strong monitoring trustee and oversight to ensure that the remedy is put into practice,” Richard Stables, chief executive of the price comparison site Kelkoo.
“Other regulators and companies have been intimidated by Google’s overwhelming might, but the commission has taken a strong stand and we hope that this is the first step in remedying Google’s shameless abuse of its dominance in search. We strongly believe that the abuse of algorithms by dominant digital platforms should be of concern to every country and company seeking a fair, competitive and creative society,” News Corp via its site.
“[It’s] eurotechnopanic at its worst: anti-American, anti-technology, anti-capitalism… Europe, you can’t regulate yourself into competition. You have to invest and innovate,” Prof Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? via Twitter.
“The EU has effectively decided that some companies have become too big to innovate. The EU’s actions have created a cloud of uncertainty that will make large tech companies overly cautious about making changes to the user experience and service offerings that would benefit consumers… The only real beneficiary of today’s ruling is the EU’s treasury,” Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
“Prioritising a particular shopping search engine is not akin to gouging water users with higher prices because there are alternatives to Google that users can switch to easily. If the overall user experience is made worse by Google Shopping being prioritised, then users will have the option of moving to a search engine like Bing which is perhaps less good at search but better overall because it does not prioritise a bad shopping tool,” Sam Bowman, executive director, Adam Smith Institute via its website.
“Given the depth of Google’s pockets, this is by no means a commercial disaster but it has the makings of a brand disaster. Google has always presented itself as ‘the good guy’ of technology, but if this record fine stands then it would be harder for them to argue that,” Rupert Bhatia, director of public relations at crisis management agency Rhizome Media.
“Prepare to see more such divided action (geographically based)… but [it’s] not simply America v EU. Some huge US companies (Oracle) agree with the EU fine, saying Google hurts competition.” Adrian Weckler, tech editor, The Irish Independent via Twitter.
“It’s simply not possible for us to operate a complex economy without certainty… Vital to this is that we all know what the law is ahead of time. It must be possible for us to know that we are acting illegally that is, the law must be known, it must be possible for us to know that we are subject to it. And that’s where this decision fails,” Tim Worstall, Adam Smith Institute via Forbes.
“Alphabet can easily afford [the fine]. The sting may come more from what the ruling means for current and future cases in Europe targeting Google and other large tech firms – most of them hailing from Silicon Valley or thereabouts. Antitrust experts and tech executives say the ruling, in particular, could be precedent-setting in instances where tech giants have become gatekeepers for our digital lives,” Sam Schechner, Wall Street Journal via its site.
“Whereas the antitrust laws in the US and the EU used to be broadly in line with each other, a gradual deregulation in the US has led to the clash of cultures we are seeing here. The vast success of Silicon Valley has been fostered by a deregulated marketplace, but this causes problems when these businesses do business against the very different legal backdrop operating in Europe,” Susan Hall, head of technology at the law firm Clarke Willmott.
“So, the EU has fined Google for breaking competition law and given it 90 days to stop, but not said what stopping looks like. Anyone find that odd?” James Titcomb, Technology editor, The Telegraph via Twitter
“They are dominant, but other search engines are available. When I go into Tesco I don’t see adverts for Lidl,” Tony Smith via Facebook.
“Last time I checked Google was a technology company, not a public body. Why is it wrong to favour its advertisers?!” Desi Velikova via Twitter.
“It’s a huge win for the average consumer. Every year Google becomes a more and more entrenched monopoly. At this point they basically dictate a big portion of the internet ecosystem,” ReanimatedX via Reddit.
“I’d like to hear an explanation as to why this is good for consumers. Instead, more people are going to just go straight to Amazon, which uses its data to learn what people like, develops its own products to compete, and then stops carrying competitors’ products,” Tenushi via Reddit.