Europeans are finally starting to wise up to the danger of allowing one company to dominate their lives online. From today’s New York Times cover story:
Across Europe, Google has been under fire, reflecting the broader challenges facing American technology companies. Google, fairly or not, has become a glaring proxy for criticism of an intrusive American government and concern over America’s unmatched technology dominance.
On Monday, things grew worse. Regulators pushed the company to give up more in an antitrust settlement — demanding that Google make additional changes to its secret sauce, the search algorithm.
When Google initially settled with regulators in February, it emerged largely unscathed, agreeing to make modest adjustments to its search formula and avoiding a fine. Now, the deal is in jeopardy. If Google does not acquiesce, regulators could toss out the settlement and bring formal charges, which could prompt billions of dollars in penalties and major changes to its operations.
It’s about time. Google has been cutting favorable deals for a long time to escape litigation to hold it accountable for its privacy breaches and monopolistic business practices. It sounds like regulators in Europe have had enough. Now, if only federal officials in the United States would follow suit.
Google, as several observers pointed out in the article, is no longer a startup with a cute search engine – it’s a mammoth company with aspirations to dominate the Internet. Its most important offering remains its search engine, but it has expanded into email, maps, document storage, domains, videos, and many other markets. It distributes its own browser, operating system, and smartphone platform. It offers one-stop shopping for the NSA, which many Europeans are now well aware of thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations.
European regulators are smart to use what leverage they have to rein in the Monster of Mountain View. The time to act is now, before Google becomes an even greater threat to privacy and choice online than it already is.