Today’s news is highlighted by the European Union bringing a formal antitrust complaint against Google. I for one have a big problem with this complaint. While I have not fully read the complaint I am going to make several assumptions here. The first assumption I will make is that the complaint primarily focuses on the Google search results and, in particular, results returned when a user searches for a product or is “shopping”. The second assumption I will make is that the first assumption is not the entire case against Google. I make the second assumption only because if it is, it shows how far out of touch some people are with technology and how it is utilized. I say this because I don’t think the EU has a good case for the first assumption.
The articles I have read today all speak of how the EU sees Google returning results that have been paid for (sponsored) at the top of the search results over competitors as anti-competitive. First, let’s simplify this a bit. If I turn on the TV and tune to a CBS channel do I see ads for the ABC shows? No, I see ads for shows that are on CBS. Google is in a way a similar situation. Why, as a user, when I go to Google.com to conduct a search, should I insist that the results not be skewed in Google’s favor? I would not say CBS has an anti-competitive advantage because people tune into their channel and see ads for CBS related shows. I know it is slightly different in that CBS has paid for the show and not the show paying for placement on CBS. But is it really different? Yes, CBS pays for a show, but the hope is that the advertising generated from the show will pay CBS back for the cost of the show and some. My point is that, in my opinion, Google does not have to justify itself for showing results over another. On top of that, the results being shown are advertised products. If you are looking to buy a new television and search for televisions on Google, the shopping results you see at the top are not Google television sets. They are ads from companies that sell televisions.
My second issue is that the EU assumes everyone goes to Google to shop. This much is true, Google has made it easier to find things on the Internet and it’s products are fairly easy to use for even a beginner. So yes, a lot of people use Google for a lot of things. But I would be surprised if the vast majority of people knew of all of Google’s products or even used more than two or three of them, and this is where the EU has their assumption wrong. Most people I know, myself included, that shop online go to specific sites for specific solutions. For example, when I am price shopping I go to Amazon. When I am looking for airfare I go to Kayak. When I am looking to reconnect with that high school classmate I haven’t seen in years I go to Facebook or LinkedIn. I may search Google for a review or if I can’t find something on one of these sites, but I rarely use Google as my first choice in these situations. The reason I will go to Google when I do is because the results I am getting from other services are just poor at best. This is not Google’s fault, it is the fault of the company for not providing a service that is efficient.
I just don’t think the EU has a strong case here and are shooting blindly based on complaints received from companies that have failed to innovate their own products. To me this case would be like saying that Amazon needs to show products that are not sold on or through Amazon in its search results.
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