Google has repeatedly been accused of abusing its market power in Europe. After years of flip-flop settlement talks, the European Commission is moving towards serving Google with a formal charge sheet some time this week. It comes at a time when politicians and Europe’s corporate champions are increasingly turning to rule making and antitrust enforcement to cope with the economic disruption of the digital age.
“We have to make or even force platforms, search engines to follow our rules in Europe,” said Günther Oettinger, the EU’s digital chief, and an outspoken critic of Silicon Valley’s dominance on the continent. This statement is being seen as an indication that a decision by the European Commission can come as early as this week. The five-year EU investigation has primarily examined whether Google illegally diverted traffic away from its competitors to its own in-house services.
This makes France only the second country after Germany to have called for bringing the internet platforms including search engines to come under the jurisdiction of EU rules in a bid to make internet access completely open and non-discriminatory access in the continent.
Sources from Financial Times reported that the French Senate will most likely introduce a proposal to potentially force the Search Engine giant in revealing ‘secret sauce’ of their success – the algorithm they use to rank websites and produce search engine results. Google has argued the algorithm is a trade secret and revealing it will make the search engine a sitting duck for spam shooters. However, the critics say that Google’s algorithm can be skewed to hurt the interests of other search engines thus undermining the aspect of net neutrality and open internet access. The critics are hoping that the reveal will act as a hard evidence and ensure accountability on Google’s part.
“Revealing our algorithms — our intellectual property — would lead to the gaming of our results, which would be a bad experience for users” – Spokesperson for Google
If approved, Arcep, France’s telecoms regulator, will have an oversight of any search engine that holds significant influence to “structure the functioning of the digital economy”. Google would be required to provide links to at least three rival search engines on its homepage, and disclose the “general principles of ranking” to the general public.
Arcep would be responsible for ensuring that the search engine “works in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, without favoring its own services”. It would be able to levy fines of up to 10 per cent of Google’s global turnover.
A spokesperson for Mr Macron, Minister of Economy,Industry and Digital Affairs, welcomed the amendment as “an occasion to debate constructively the regulation of large digital platforms”, pointing out that the French government wants to be on the forefront of similar discussions on a European level.
There has been a lot of speculation on how Google will respond to the French Senate’s motion. If history is anything to go by, then it would be more than an uphill task for the French regulators as Google famously opted to shut its news service in Spain after they were faced with a similar regulatory clampdown.