11 January 2012 by Pelle Neroth
Google Scholar and Google Books.
Google is also under attack from competitors who allege its search algorithms discriminate against them, and now the European commission is on Google's tail.
Last year was on the whole a good one for the California-based company. Its browser, the excellent Chrome, overtook the popular Firefox browser in several markets. Notebooks with Chrome-based operating systems were launched and received good reviews. The company launched a social network competitor to Facebook; and its Gmail free VOIP calls service was launched in the US - with predictions of launching it in Europe in 2012. The company acquired more than a score of companies last year to add to the more than a hundred since 2001.
But then there is this anti-competitiveness issue brewing.
Companies that duplicate Google-type services such as the price comparison site Foundem have alleged that Google operates a "White List" that mysteriously takes them off the search ranking list completely, without any explanation, and without any possibility of appeal.
A second allegation is that, anyway, Google's Universal Search algorithm always seems to put its own services at the top of the search listings. The European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia launched an investigation in November 2010, and has been taking consultations since.
According to some analysts, the time taken suggests its Statement of Objections, expected in weeks, will be a swingeing attack on Google's practices.
If changes to pits practices are called for, the company will have two months to respond or it may face fines of up to 10% of its annual turnover in Europe. The issue is not that Google is market dominant. It is, especially in Europe, with over 80% of search requests, while its share the search engine market in the US is down to 65%. The issue is whether abuse of that market dominance is taking place.
According to industry body ICOMP, Google has 80% of European search-related advertising. Google's spokesmen complain that they have been misunderstood, and that it does not operate white lists. But it is no secret that some in the Commission and some member states want to push their own decidedly inferior equivalent of Google Books, Europeana, which has only a smattering of English language texts.
A few years ago there was the Franco-German search engine project Quaero which was supposed to be Jacques Chirac's legacy, but then the Germans pulled out and the project continues in a skeleton form.
Quaero won an IEEE Spectrum magazine award for worst internet innovation of the year. The citation said it tried to succeed where even mighty Microsoft had failed - in beating Google at its own game - and joked that the Plebeians outside the Elysee palace, without the benefit of a classical education, wouldn't even be able to spell "Quaero".
So will the commission get political? It is interesting that the commission has not yet given the green light to Google's big business deal of the moment, the takeover of Motorola Mobility. Last year Motorola split into two, and it is the mobile phone division that Google has purchased, allowing it to acquire 17,000 patents which would help cement its dominance in the mobile search market.
The commission says that this particular delay is "normal" and that the commission is just gathering information on this ostensibly separate case, but you do wonder.
Google's chairman Eric Schmidt, who visits Brussels, and recently opened flashy new offices in Paris, always says "Competition is just a click away". Some of its competitors think that's too blithe a statement.
We'll soon find out what the commission thinks.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 11 January 2012 10:52 PM General
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