An EU Parliamentary motion calling for Google to split up its various online businesses to aid competitiveness in Europe has been branded as too little, too late.
Last week saw 384 MEPs vote in favour of splitting up Google’s search business from its other divisions, outweighing the 174 that voted against and 56 that abstained.
Marcus Tober, the founder and chief technology officer of SEO platform Searchmetrics, says the motion is unlikely to have any real impact on Google’s operation in Europe considering the power that has already been allowed to build up.
“Google is big. And for too long a time, the community has been a little blind and unaware of its development and power,” Marcus told PerformanceIN.
“Now, it may be too late to react. I’m afraid political processes are too slow and won’t be backed by a solid basis - proof and evidence - to really stop Google’s journey.”
Politicians lack power
Analysts have been keen to point out that MEPs do not possess the necessary power to force companies like Google into changing the way they run their businesses. Due to this, the motion is being viewed as a way of highlighting to issue to the European Commission (EC) for its own inspection.
Their calls are “to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interlinked services by operators of search engines”, which could include anything from Google’s advertising products to popular services like Google Maps. The company holds a 90% share of the search market in Europe and, without EC intervention, the power to use its own engine to promote Google-owned services.
But Tober says that if recent incidents are anything to go by, the calls will have minimal effect.
“I don’t expect Google to react proactively. And in fact, they don’t need to,” he states.
“Google is pretty consistent and smart in what it does while at the same time being both cooperative and steadfast in reacting to political or social-cultural decisions. See the recent debate about the ‘Leistungsschutzrecht’ in Germany that Google more or less just kept out of and emerged as a winner in the end.”
Tober cites a story that played out not far from Searchmetrics’ office in the German tech hub of Berlin. Several of the country’s online publishers including Axel Springer SE and Burda rallied to demand payment from Google for the engine’s publishing of news snippets in search results.
They retracted their case last month after Google pulled several content previews from search results, which led to a decline in traffic for many of the sites involved.
The secret system
While he does not believe that Google will be forced to scale back on the promotion of products via Google search, Tober says that incidents like the expansion of “right to be forgotten” prove that EU politics can influence search.
However, he believes that attempts to have Google reveal the secrets of its search algorithm is taking political influence too far.
“Google is a company. And as a company, it is subject to the political laws of the countries where it operates. While at the same time, Google is a major part of the internet, in which political laws related to individual countries are very difficult to implement. So this is kind of a double-edged sword,” says Tober.
Ultimately, it will be hard for any organisation to enforce restrictions on Google search when details of the algorithm’s rewarding system have not been revealed.
“Google might be using its power to place its own services before others in search results. It’s their own search engine and they believe this is the best result for the user. I think this is the main target of the recent development. But as long as nobody knows the algorithm, it is very difficult to provide a solid basis for political or even judicial decisions.”
Authors of the motion say that breaking up Google is one of a number of options currently being explored.