When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

eyes on the U.S.

A Smarter Way Europe Can Cut Google Down To Size

Yes, the Google 'monster' is too big and too powerful. But EU politicians imposing a breakup of the U.S. tech giant is not the solution. A mix of arm-twisting and open competition can do the trick.

The European Parliament's hemicycle in Strasbourg
The European Parliament's hemicycle in Strasbourg
Johannes Boie

-OpEd-

MUNICH — The European Parliament has voted to break up Google, which is about the toughest blow a company can receive. The parliament's watchword seems to be "unbundling," which could mean forbidding Google from linking its products together — for example, telling the company that a Google search could no longer bring up Google Maps. There is also talk of "expropriation."

The vote is not binding, but it does put pressure on the EU Commission, which has been investigating for years whether Google disadvantages its competitors and users, and considering just how hard to move against the company.

The distinction should be made between commission issues and parliamentary decisions, and not just for formal reasons. Commission procedure is a more or less normal bureaucratic process that has seen Google make some changes to its products both to gain ground and to calm adversaries. One example is the Google Shopping page that offers an overview of shopping opportunities: It now lists not just advertisers but also competitors of Google Shopping.

The EU Commission proceedings are still open, and no one knows when or how they will end. But the parliament is trying to force it to make an anti-Google decision before commission investigations have been completed. Emotions risk interfering with the proceedings.

In this debate, the talk is always of the Google monster, the data leech, the monopolist — in short, a company that can only be dealt with by using the harshest means. And that's Google's fault. For decades the company has lacked transparency, particularly with regard to the question of what happens to user data. At the same time, an increasing number of people use Google products because they are effective and simple to use. The otherwise fast-moving company is only slowly introducing functions that will enable its clients to have a little control over their data.

In any case, the parliament members want a quick radical solution: break Google up. But do the actions of the American company really warrant that? On reflection, what would replace the Google search engine? A publicly backed European search engine like the one Google critics are plugging? The result would be a product that doesn't work half as well as Google search, but that would draw a digital line in the transatlantic economic space, marking a step in the direction of blatant protectionism.

But it's not just Google that would suffer. Users would too. The company needs to be dealt with in another way. Commission proceedings have demonstrated that, step by step, Google's arm can be twisted enough for it to make changes. What's more, if Google continues wrecking its own image as it has been doing lately, then more competitors whose values include data protection and transparency are going to surface.

The market is already going that way. Things would be moving faster in Europe if it were as easy to create companies here as it is in the United States. That's a subject the EU could take up with a bit more energy if it really wants to weaken Google. Under pressure from new, innovative competition, other digital giants have been broken up either partially or entirely in a way nobody would have thought possible. Think Myspace and AOL. Google could end up in pieces with no EU intervention at all.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Dottoré!

Sowing The Seeds Of Paranoia

"They must be dumping garbage — good, it makes for good fertilizer!"

"Slowly, we were the only ones left"

Mariateresa Fichele

"Dottoré, I know a lot of flags, and let me tell you why. I grew up in the province of Caserta, and — like everybody in those days — my parents owned a piece of land, and they would take me with them to farm it.

I remember there were other kids in the fields around us. But then, slowly, we were the only ones left because everybody was selling the land, making a lot of money off of it too.

Papà wouldn't listen to reason and he kept the land. But in the meantime, instead of farmers, trucks began to arrive. Many many trucks, unloading thousands of barrels and burying them into the ground.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ