Last week, in a German magazine interview, government minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested that Google was “becoming a giant monopoly.” She casually asserted that government action might be coming at some point if Google didn’t become more “transparent” and responsive to government concerns. Almost on cue a number of companies have filed diverse complaints with Germany’s Cartel Office about Google.
Those complaints, which have not yet been publicly released, involve the following, according to Deutsche Welle:
- German newspaper and magazine publisher associations the VDZ and BDZV have reportedly filed their complaints about uncompensated use of article snippets. There are also complaints about how publications are ranked in Google search and news results
- Shopping site Ciao, now owned by Micrososft, is upset about its AdSense contract (entered into before the Microsoft acquisition): “The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported that Ciao believes the contract to be overly restrictive, while not offering enough transparency on advertising revenues generated by AdSense.”
- Finally mapping site Euro-Cities asserts that the availability of Google Maps to third party sites for free is “is destroying its business model.”
These descriptions are based on second-hand information and so it’s impossible to evaluate the merits of the respective parties’ claims. I’m also not knowledgeable about European competition law to assess whether any of these claims are viable, as described.
As PaidContent points out, the publisher associations’ complaints are much like a similar Belgian publisher case that was decided against Google (copyright violation) in 2007 (however the ruling was complex).
While there may be merit to some or many of these claims, which is impossible to determine at this point because they’re not public, and while it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain competitive markets as a general matter, one gets the sense that there is lots of frustration being expressed here and hurled at Google in the form of various legal theories to see what sticks. Many of these complaints (using the same facts) would undoubtedly not be made if Google weren’t so successful and powerful.
In other words, it’s unlikely that a Euro-Cities would be formally complaining about a smaller competitor making its maps available for free. However, as a general matter, Google’s size and market power alarm many regulators in Europe and they seem intent on finding ways of asserting more control over the company regardless of whether Google has actually run afoul of any legal rules.
The fact that Google is an American company is also part of the subtext of all of this as well. If Google were a European company it would likely not be seeing as many complaints and the official comments about Google, such as by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, would probably not be as inflammatory.