In late November, the European parliament voted for a resolution proposing an end to the abuse of the dominant position of certain internet search engines. They would no longer be considered as a commercial service. The objective of the approach is twofold. First, it would permit healthier competition and second, greater transparency.
The problem would not arise if search engines were just search engines. Some also offer numerous other services or are allied to firms which they favour in their search results. That is not fair, neither to competitors or citizens who are expecting a neutral service; instead they are being remotely guided. Of course, this text has no directly repressive or restricting value, but we wanted to send a strong signal to the commission, to some companies like Google and to citizens.
Google for example, has been duping the European authorities for years, and the point of no return has almost been reached. We have constantly denounced the firm, suspected of unfair competition or of collecting and unlawfully manipulating user data.
"To suffocate the market is to kill creativity, prevent the expansion of countless small and medium-sized enterprises, put a brake on recruitment and deprive citizens of the possibility of making a choice"
For more than four years, we threatened Google with sanctions if it did not comply with the rules of free competition or respect data protection laws. The commitments made by Google were clearly inadequate, counter-productive, and even aggravated the situation.
In early 2014, Joaquín Almunia, the commissioner in charge of the Google case, was optimistic that a rapid resolution of the dispute would be reached. He accepted a large part of Google’s proposals, and it was at that moment that the commissioner lost all credibility. The draft agreement envisaged Google being obliged to put forward three of its competitors each time it presents search results produced from its specialist search engines (plane tickets, Google Maps).
It would be better if Google indicated to internet users that the results presented are sponsored results, and then present the offers of its competitors.
It was a bad agreement. The question is on what basis should competitors’ results be presented – at random, an equation, or from negotiation with competitors? In fact, if Google has agreed to go so far in the presentation of rival offers, it is simply because it is drawing huge commercial benefit from that. The draft agreement provided that Google itself would be able to decide on a 'pool' of competitors equivalent to its services, according to supposedly ‘objective’ criteria, and put up for auction the inclusion of their results alongside its own.
In short, Google was the big winner. It retains the right to make use of its dominant position to put forward its specialist services on its search engine, to the detriment of the competitors who are subject to the crushing weight of Google (more than 90 per cent of the searches in Europe). In addition, it will be able to make those competitors pay to display their results.
Fortunately, we fought for more transparency and justice, notions which, regarding this precise case, seemed to have totally disappeared from the vicinity of the Schuman roundabout. Therefore, that resolution comes just at the right time, and also reminds the new commissioner about the whole complexity and scale of the task.
To suffocate the market is to kill creativity, prevent the expansion of countless small and medium-sized enterprises, put a brake on recruitment and deprive citizens of the possibility of making a choice.
The text voted for in the parliament must sound the bell for the end of break time. It is high time to cut the strings which make citizens, consumers and decision-makers the puppets of multinationals. It is time for sanctions.