There is a kind of hypocrisy in tech that seems to condemn the industry to repeat prior mistakes and reintroduce previously explored technologies. Many enthused by technology peer to the horizon searching for sunrise-shimmers of innovation, rather than sitting back and watching the sunset of evolution.
Before cloud computing, there was thin client computation. Before phablets, there were PDAs. Before tablets and Chromebooks, there were Netbooks. Before the Apple Watch and Android Wear, there was the Timex Datalink and Samsung SPH-WP10. Before Microsoft, there was IBM and before Google, there was Microsoft.
Today, that ebb and flow of iteration and evolution may be catching up to Google.
There are reports that the European Commission may have a reinvigorated interest in pursuing a formal Antitrust case against Google in the EU. For some time now, the European Commission has been eyeballing Google for possible anti-competitive behavior regarding their search and advertisement practices, as they pertain to the European market. While Bing does account for 17% of the search market in the US, worldwide, and especially in Europe, Google is a much stronger force to contend with. A case for antitrust, on the back of monopolistic behavior, can be an easy one to make in the EU.
This recent investigation could have possibly been avoided, had it not been for some strong lobbying from anti-Google critics and a wavering Joaquin Alumnia, the former European Commission antitrust chief. After five years of investigation, Joaquin and Google underwent several iterations of settlement proposals. However, the concessions were discredited and rejected by lobbying group FairSearch.org. Not nailing those concessions in ink may come back to bite Google in the end, as the tide of anti-Google, along with anti-American sentiment, rises in Europe and other nations.
With this news, the tech industry finds its self in a precarious situation. While no formal charges have currently been laid at Google’s doorsteps, the similarities to the Microsoft antitrust case in the US, EU, South Korea, and other places should give the entire industry pause. Is history about to repeat itself?
At the end of Microsoft’s antitrust saga, the Justice Department ordered Microsoft split the company up, between operating system and application businesses. Microsoft appealed and found a settlement with the Justice Department that required unbundling IE as well as make portions of it’s Windows OS open source.
In Europe, Microsoft was punished even further. Some of the European concessions included browser ballot boxes and financial punishments. Google can find itself in a similar territory of sanctions, concessions, and the possible company splits if the European Commission pursues this case any further.
Some argue that the DOJ and subsequent EU settlements were the right things to do to avoid Microsoft’s potential monopoly over the tech industry. Others believe, like Jean-Louis Gassee, the Ceo of Be Inc, Microsoft was offering customers what they were increasingly coming to expect. Customers were beginning to expect that operating systems would incorporate a browser for convenience. Similar arguments have been bandied in favor of Google’s practices and the reliability of their search engine.
In the end, we’ll have to wait and see if anything is levied against Google, and if so, will Google become the new pariah of the tech industry? If history is any indicator, we may not have to wait too long.