The EC’s case against Google was a bad application outdated laws
The European Commission’s dispute with Google, on one level is not surprising. Margrethe Vestager, the EC’s competition commissioner’s role is to investigate any possible violations of EU Competition Law. She is doing exactly that with her complaints against Google for its use of Google Shopping. It is also not surprising that Google has been investigated for possible violations of its monopoly with regard to how it controls its mobile operating system Android.
It is important to ignore the drama that surrounds such cases. The European Parliament suggested last year that Google should be broken up . This was echoed in news reports. Reports have also highlighted the potential Euro 6-billion fine Google could face if antitrust complaints are upheld. The case was the result of an antitrust conspiracy led by Microsoft.
The drama, however, hides a long-term process that may take several years. During that time, the landscape could have changed not just once but multiple times. Google was at great pain in defending themselves against the claims that they were harming their consumers. They pointed out that Google search is rapidly being replaced by other services and that
People are increasingly turning to social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter for recommendations on where to eat or watch movies or even how to decorate their homes.
While it is true that Google dominates searches on the Internet, this is not the case for the “social web,” which is dominated by Facebook. Instagram, Twitter, and many others. Google’s dominance in advertising may be the same on desktop, but it is not the case for mobile.
The timescales of law and trade policy will always be behind the pace of technological change. Even if it wasn’t difficult enough to understand the impact of technology on competition and consumers, trying to do so in the context of what will happen within a few short years is nearly impossible. Even determining the monopoly of a technology market can be difficult. Apple users are 5 times more valuable than Android users, despite the fact that Android controls 80% of the smartphone market in the world, compared to Apple’s 15% share.
All of the EC’s previous actions against Microsoft were insignificant in shaping the outcome on the market. These actions did not have any effect on Microsoft’s behavior and were of little or no benefit to consumers. Pre-installed software is not a barrier to consumers’ ability to use alternative software, as was the case with the EC complaint against Android.
The EC’s objections to Google raise the general question that it would be futile to try to retroactively influence the way technology companies and the digital industry work. The law, just like copyrights and patents before it, has not been able to adapt to the global disruption brought on by technology and society. This has caused policymakers and law-makers, as well as companies that do not want to adapt to the changes, to look backwards and be a barrier to progress, instead of enabling it.
The EC would make better use of its time and resources if they created policies that supported the digital economy they profess want, rather than limiting their vision to a past time.