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European Commission fines Google €2.42B for abusing dominance (europa.eu)
690 points by antr on June 27, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 664 comments

I might be in a minority here and I'll probably get down voted but this result scares me... and I used to be CTO one of those competing price comparison sites that show up lower in the results so if anyone should agree it should be me.

While it made me angry when Google put their results above ours, I never questioned that they had a right to do that. It is their website. They are not a utility. At what point does a company cross the line and become one that the EU feels can no longer promote their own product?

After all, the actual products here are the products being sold not the comparison sites. If I search for baseball bat the product is the bat not the competing search results.

What's next? Having to give equal ranking to Yahoo! search results in their search page? It sounds extreme but I would have also thought this was extreme until 2 minutes ago.

Or perhaps more accurate... having to completely do away with One Box entirely. After all, when I search for a movie it displays the actor information and movie times before it displays the link to the theater website or IMDB.

It should scare you. The EU just used their regulatory power to force the world's biggest search engine to make their user experience worse in order to benefit other companies. Before Google penalized all the vertical search sites, doing a Google search for certain kinds of products was a terrible experience; page after page of crappy information-free autogenerated sites hoping to make $$$ from ads and referral fees that were SEO-optimized to the gills, making it impossible to find actual information.

Not only that, but the specialized infoboxes at the top of Google's search results were an almost direct response to their competitor Microsoft doing exactly the same thing and promoting it at the main advantage of their search. Microsoft's comparison shopping subsidiary which they used for their search results was one of the companies complaining to the EU about this. Now that Microsoft have convinced the EU to ban Google from doing this, they can once again point to the fact that they offer this extra contextual information as a reason for using them and Google cannot compete.

There's a clear difference between what Bing and Google are doing. Please don't mistake the facts:

1. The EC is not asking Google to make their user experience worse.

2. The EC does not have a problem with sponsored search results.

Google's user experience is the generic algorithm that determines what is the most relevant result. Google deliberately did not subject its own comparison shopping service to that algorithm while subjecting competitors' to it. Furthermore, Google took the FIRST result position.

Why would they do this if they have the best user experience and it should come up first anyways?

Contrast with Bing, when I search for "baseball bat": The first 3 results above the fold are organic unpaid SERPs. (Nothing from Bing in the top three spots.) And their shopping ads are displayed to the right of the organic search results.

If Google would've treated these products like ads, then the EC wouldn't have had a problem. But they didn't. And they have a dominant share of the general internet search market.

Google deliberately tried to exploit its market dominance to enter into another market in which it was not competitive.

There's nothing scary about this fine.

I worked at Bing in a previous life. As far as I know it was official policy that internal results would not be artificially boosted but had to be subject to the same ranking algorithm as anything else.

But it's Google's website. Why shouldn't they be able to promote their own products on their site?

Because it's anti competitive behavior.

I don't see AMD offerings on Intel's website either.

You are missing the point entirely.

Why shouldn't they? It's their site! See the OP. It's not a utility.

Just because I own my own house doesn't mean I can blast a jet engine I'm testing inside it... there are rules and laws that exist in the world.

If you think those rules and laws have a negative impact, then work to fix them.

The problem with these rules that they are not precise. The right approach would be to let the court order a company and give enough time to comply and if they still don't, then fine.

Or you should be happy, that the EU actually uses their regulatory power to benefit the consumer no matter how big the company they're going against is.

Does it benefit the consumer though? I fail to see how showing links to search results pages from other companies in response to a product query is better for consumers than just showing them a listing of the products they actually searched for.

[Google's response][1] to this ruling suggests they have data which confirms this:

> While some comparison shopping sites naturally want Google to show them more prominently, our data shows that people usually prefer links that take them directly to the products they want, not to websites where they have to repeat their searches.

[1]: https://www.blog.google/topics/google-europe/european-commis...

As a consumer, I have (much) more trust that my interests are advanced by the EU than google.

This is an opinion which I don't feel the need to convert anyone to but I really don't understand the opposite view. Can someone explain why they believe google and other "emerging" power centers saveguard their interests better than the EU?

This. Google's data just shows their interests happen to align with "what people usually prefer" this time, but we know that is not what motivates google. Not at all.

They have acted against "what people usually prefer" many, many times before when it was beneficial to their own interests.

Additionally, "what people usually prefer" is completely orthogonal to the EU antitrust ruling, which is about holding companies responsible for the power that comes with market dominance.

Companies don't really have ethics or humanity (the way people do), unless we force them to. "We" in this case refers to the whole of society, including the people making up the company. In particular as companies grow very large, even if the people making up the company are ethical, humane and good, THEY are still tasked to wrangle a wild beast that is mostly just hungry for profits, and try to steer it to do Good and not Bad because it doesn't see there is a difference. But even then, they can use help from the rest of society, and regulations can be part of this help.

Personally, as an EU citizen, I don't believe that Google is advancing my interests and rights, but I also don't believe that the EU commission dictating what Google can or cannot do based on who is lobbying and how much money is at stake has the consumer's best interests in mind. To me these fines seem motivated by money, not consumer rights.

+1. While adding billions to their coffers may not be the motivation, there's a ravenous appetite to figure out how to distribute wealth of this obscenely rich generation of multinationals. This reeks of an ineffectual political institution grasping for one of the few solutions it can implement.

Would you prefer the EU simply prevent Google from operating in their borders? That's always an option.

It's so refreshing to see checks and balances on US multinationals, and I say that as a US citizen.

on what is this based. the EU commision distroyed roaming between EU members, and im pretty sure they had all the lobiying from mobile operators to not do it.

Its called democracy- its when a goverment pushes the interests of its people.

That's not what democracy is. Also the EU has been shamed as undemocratic since their representatives are not elected by popular vote. People do vote for who represents them as a country in the EU but I doubt any of them had a choice in the Google fine.

Uhm... So this is problem in the EU but not the US right?


It's actually called authoritarianism - when pushing what government wants violates other people's rights to do business as they please even if it isn't criminal activity.

People like the guy you replied to would only start to question things, once the EU decides they cannot keep working the way they want to.

They live under some sort of bubble of selfishness, where they believe others have to change in order to do to what is best for them. Guess what, as long as Google is committing no crime, why should them?

Can someone explain why they believe google and other "emerging" power centers saveguard their interests better than the EU?

1. Because it's in their long term best interest to have a customer for life (No political cycle) so they are more incentivized than a politician would be to support the interest of the consumer.

2. They have a more insight into user desires and actions on a day to day basis, meaning they can predict and "nudge" users in directions that are mutually beneficial.

Re: 1) You might think that is in Google's best interest - but I'm not sure most previous behavior with handling anything from usenet (Google groups), via the rss reader through any number of other services Google has mismanaged or shut down.

It's in Google's best interest to make money. A large userbase and ubiquitous brand is part of that. User happiness is only one possible means to that end.

Finally, you seem to think that search users are Google's customers - as they don't pay anything to Google, they are a resource, or product - not a customer.

Google search is a loss-leader for Google ads - if there's no competition (say paying for product placement at these other sites) - Google gets a bigger share of the ad revenue.

I don't see what magical mechanism there is that would strongly push Google to care for the Google search users "best interest".

Finally, you seem to think that search users are Google's customers - as they don't pay anything to Google, they are a resource, or product - not a customer.

That set of users though is what this whole action from the EU is trying to protect. It's only marginally about the other businesses - the end goal is making sure the population of the EU is benefiting.

To that end I have yet to see where or how Google has proven they have the population's interest at mind than the government itself. Google has a much better track record than any government does at listening to the majority of a population's demands based on their behavior (yes even with the deprecation of groups/reader etc...) and responding with their products.

The EU or any other government does less for the population (relative to capabilities, obviously Google doesn't pave roads yet) than Google.

From the initial complaint:


> (...) systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages. The Commission's preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumer (...)

> (...) [Google] may therefore artificially divert traffic from rival comparison shopping services and hinder their ability to compete on the market. The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries - this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation.

The EU is concerned with regulating the market to favour competition. It's true the underlying implication is that a Free market is a Good market - and so by defending completion it's theorised that the consumer profits. (in my opinion that's a non-seqitor - but that's the principle underlying the EU).

Now you could argue for other models, claiming that the proletariat will be better off - under a strict redistribution model, under an unregulated market, under a monopoly - but don't put EU's cart in front of the horse: it has one principle, a regulated free market.

it has one principle, a regulated free market.

And I'm saying that not only does the government have a terrible track record, there is no evidence that this actually makes any difference to competition. All it does is show that the government can throw their "weight" around.

Nothing in the historical record of antitrust should make us confident that the court’s dismemberment of one of the most successful companies in history would increase competition.[1]


I'm against a free market precisely because the governments of Europe have a great track record in the periods they've adhered to "true" labour/socialist values. Universal healthcare, universal access to education, help with housing, regulations on the labour market - all things that have greatly improved lives of consumers.

Centralised power generally means a departure from direct democracy, and that's one reason why I'm not a fan of the EU.

For a great view into why a regulated market might just be better than an unregulated one, have read of:


Google users are not (in most cases) their customers but a product Google sells to their actual customers.

Google long term interest is to increase the margin of their product by increasing their dominance in multiple markets over multiple tiers.

If they do this by using their monopolistic power then they are in violation of the law even when by doing that they provide a service that some of their users see usable.

> Google users are not (in most cases) their customers but a product Google sells to their actual customers.

No, Google users are suppliers of a product (ad views) that Google sells to their customers. But they are suppliers that are paid via in-kind exchange (with Google services) rather than cash, which is exactly equivalent to being customers of Google services that pay with in-kind exchange rather than cash. So, in a very real sense, those users are customers.

Are chickens in the farm also customers?

> Are chickens in the farm also customers?

Chickens in a farm aren't situated similarly, with respect to the farm, as users are with respect to Google services.

Chickens can't freely choose a different farm, or to use no farm at all.

So if chickens could choose a farm, they would become customers?

In addition - open air held chickens could run away but they choose not to.

Do Google users get slaughtered? I mean, that is why it's undesirable to be a chicken in a chicken farm, right? If it weren't for that, then choosing the farm you are on would be quite the desirable ability.

What if all that happened on chicken farms was one of their feathers got plucked once in awhile?

I was considering the kind of farm that produces eggs, so being slaughtered was not in the picture.

So the question is - what are the sufficient conditions for a chicken to be raised to the customer status from the equipment status?

Funny but not profound.

Analogy is actually much stronger we like to admit.

Even if chickens would have choice, all they can choose from for their actual survival is another chicken farm.

Over time they have downgraded their ability to survive without support of the chicken farm.

Even if they had some money to pay for the entrance into the chicken farm then collecting their eggs would be much more lucrative business.

Wow. Really sad to read that here but:

1) They are a quasi monopoly. The word you use to describe searching on the internet is "googling". Most of the phones on this planet run on their OS. So please...don't fool yourself.

2) Who's creating those desires? You think that the desire for millions of useless shit products that drive the global market are created by some neccesity deeply in our DNA? Or maybe by your free will? Or is this just the ad-industry stealing the attention from you and fitting you into a pretty tight frame of the optimal customer while preaching to you: "everybody/your idol loves this, you have to love it too".

Prediction in the age of advertising is just like advertising itself. A convenient lie.

They are a quasi monopoly.

Ok, and? The idea that monopoly is bad - ipso facto - is silly and monopolistic abuse of consumers is largely theoretical. Governments don't like monopolies because they challenge their power, and don't forget nearly every "bad" monopoly was the result of a government license to monopolize. The whole "Trust Busting" trope that underlies the anti-trust act was not because consumers were being hurt, it was a pissing match between the Government and Northern Securities Company [1]. Milton Friedman covered this well [2]

Who's creating those desires?

Companies, friends, acquaintances, media etc... it's not Google.

Or is this just the ad-industry stealing the attention...

Sure, are we debating the existence of an ad-market or Google? Cause I can assure you an ad market will exist irrespective of whatever Google does.



> Ok, and? The idea that monopoly is bad - ipso facto - is silly and monopolistic abuse of consumers is largely theoretical.

What?! Monopolies always abuse their power because they can. I live in a country where we still feel the bad influence of a former monopolist ISP (Telecom/T-Online). THEIR influence on the government hurts the customer and even customers of other ISPs. It even hurts the tax payer who may not even have internet because his money may flow into subsidies for them. For example: they recently started eating up net neutrality in Germany. Because they can.

One of the most misused powers of monopolies is dictating a price. Just like we had a few months ago also in Germany with the biggest breweries. Millions of customers have been cheated.

IT IS ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR. They pay for this. How you can tell something like that "silly" is beyond me.

You're talking about advertising pushing useless shit on people they wouldn't want? But they don't see the advertising until they've already searched for the item!

That's either some magical advertising that makes people search for things before they've seen it. Or you're wrong.

Or, you know, the intent and nature of most advertising is completely orthogonal to the circumstances and conditions of them appearing, the point stands, and you're not even nearing actually addressing it, just bumping over your own straw man.

And when I google for "an item", like "medium sized dog", for whatever reason that means I already...well, what? Want a dog? Maybe, likely not. Want whatever that particular ad is trying to peddle me with whatever shoddy means and rhetoric, because it might have to do with dogs, or merely claim it does? Nope.

The competition is a click away. Remember AltaVista?

re 2. Or one which only looks mutually beneficial, but only benefits Google in reality.

Can you give an unbiased concrete example (eg. tainted baby formula, collapsed bridge, corrupted hard drive from virus) of something that has benefited google to the direct harm of one of it's users?

The biggest argument I've seen is that people don't like that they aggregate the data you give to them.

AMP. This is entirely what the AMP argument has been all about.

Really? Nobody benefits from AMP? I mean I get the complaints from developers and publishers, but even on HN I have seen support for AMP.

This goes to the broader point though that Google wants to service the end user better based on their feedback (most sites are too big/load too slowly), so they created something simple that gives end users a faster, better and cheaper (lower mobile data cost) solution.

In fact Google seems to be moving faster here because companies keep creating large websites to serve rich content that users find annoyingly slow.


>even on HN I have seen support for AMP

There are also many people that actively support Chrome. Does it mean that Chrome dominance is therefore beneficial to the future?

As a user I like AMP. it loads faster than the normal bloated websites and doesn't freeze my device while megabytes upon megabytes of scripts try to run.

It's not about you and who you trust the most, it's about if this makes sense or not. The EU is not infallible, they are subject to political pressures and there have been enough of that in this case that they started asking the wrong questions and reached the inevitable wrong conclusions, which are easy to welcome since they serve their protectionist instincts.

Google is not a utility, it's not the water company nor the electric company, or even your ISP, it's essentially a website one which you are free to use or not and the price of admission and switching and opportunity costs are nil, same as for all competing websites, so dictating what Google's website can display and declaring it's contents illegal and worthy of billion dollar fines makes zero sense.

As a consumer, I have (much) more trust that my interests are advanced by the EU than google.

The same people that brought you that idiotic cookies warning?

Yes, the cookie notices are a bad implementation of a good policy, (informing users that they're being tracked.)

No. The cookie notices are the natural consequence of a bad policy driven by a good motivation. Well-meaning but stupid busybodies are cluttering up my world. See also: California prop 65 warnings.

Cookies don't imply tracking - that is just one use of them.

The EU law on cookies is specifically about tracking cookies, not first-party cookies.

See http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/basics/legal/cookies/index_en.htm#se...

And the EU cookie consent law doesn't apply when you're using cookies for most other purposes than tracking.

Do you not think that websites should alert users that they are being tracked?

I suppose the Guardian shouldn't alert people that the NSA listens to their telephone calls, either. (Because every spy agency does it?)

And the same people that are removing it.

Why are you using Google then? Use a Service you can trust or you believe has your best interests at heart.

The answer to your question is given by the EC decision:

> There are also high barriers to entry in these markets, in part because of network effects: the more consumers use a search engine, the more attractive it becomes to advertisers. The profits generated can then be used to attract even more consumers. Similarly, the data a search engine gathers about consumers can in turn be used to improve results.

Simply put, the EC believes that Google is a barrier to any viable competition, so there's no ability to develop a competitive service to Google's own.

Sounds like they're punishing commercial success, i.e. the goals of most public corporations.

Search has been Google's core competency since their inception, they were much smaller than the existing Search engines when they started out but were able to create a better product that users preferred and since that time they've been able to amass a wealth of knowledge, experience and resources. Of course any company is going to have a hard time trying to compete with them now, but I don't see why they need to be punished for executing so well on their core mission.

"""Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets."""

It's not about "punishing" but it is about holding dominant companies responsible for handling the great power that comes with this dominance.

Companies don't usually do this by themselves because like you say, their goals are orthogonal to this.

Doesn't mean it's contrary to their goals (which would be "punishing", in a sense), but "commercial success" or profit just isn't a force that drives ethical behaviour and responsibility. It's not. Things would be so much easier if they were.

Well, I believe the court has considered their position and feels that "punishing" google is not a matter of commercial success but of anti trust law (the "companies don't have inner pressure to be moral" argument). One's opinion as to whether the court is acting in good faith with regards to its mandate is a matter of faith, I'll concede that; I personnaly have more faith in our individual ability to reorient the court/EUs mandate than to exercise pressure on google/corporations who are filling the new power center that comes with the internet and mass information distribution.

Important correction its not the court its the commission. It seems similar to prosecutor handing down the sentence and burden of proof hence falls upon the accused

Step 1: "the more consumers use a search engine" --> presumably because said consumers like the product (search engine)

Step 2: "more attractive to advertisers"

Step 3: "profits generated can then be used to attract even more consumers"

Wait, why were consumers attracted by the product (search engine) in the 1st step, but were convinced by the profits in the 3rd step?

Because they're a US company, duh.

Just like Toyota in the unintended acceleration problem was quickly found guilty of not being GM or Ford.

> The profits generated can then be used to attract even more consumers.


At the very least you have no requirement to use Google. You don't have that option with the EU if you're in an EU country.

I have no idea whose bribes control the corrupt EU bureaucracy. At least Google helps me by moving stuff from windows into the browser.

Really? As a consumer, what has the EU done for you lately, compared to what Google and other Internet "monopolies" have done for you?

One monopoly is no more moral than another simply because the first one has guns and the second doesn't.

You mean just like they have forced millions of websites to show the "Warning: This site uses cookies" message (which arguably cost a fortune in compliance costs and user annyoance, but made no difference in the end)?

I would encourage a "follow the money" train of thought when thinking about this.

My question then becomes: if this money (the $2.7bn) did not accrue to the EU, or was not levied at all, do you still think the EU would still pursue this as ferociously as it has, just to protect the consumer?

>You mean just like they have forced millions of websites to show the "Warning: This site uses cookies" message

The websites could have just stopped using tracking cookies.

> I fail to see how showing links to search results pages from other companies in response to a product query is better for consumers than just showing them a listing of the products they actually searched for.

But that is not what google does. I just did a search for "samsung galaxy s8". Instead of the first result being a link to a Samsung page I got 3 results that where ads (one of them being for the new oneplus). How does that match the "show what people searched for"? The results where sorted by "how much money did google receive" instead of "what the user intended".

That's not what I get at all: https://i.imgur.com/nKpAYKX.png

Regardless of what you're seeing though, ads are a necessary part of Google Search; it's how they make their money. IMO it's a little strange to be complaining that Google is showing you ads in your search results.

I mean, I don't expect Google to show the same results to everyone (this is what I get: http://imgur.com/a/go3pU ). Funny thing is that the results changed between my first and second query (there was another unrelated result before the first link to Samsung).

I'm not complaining about ads and this fine is not about ads. It is about Google favoring Google Shopping links instead of competitors even though Google Shopping was inferior when it started. Google basically pushed their product no matter how shitty it was.

If it were not for Google being a near monopoly in search this would not be a problem, but Google is a monopoly, so special rules apply to them.

> I'm not complaining about ads and this fine is not about ads. It is about Google favoring Google Shopping links [...]

Google Shopping links _are_ ads though: https://i.imgur.com/m5rGqLa.png

It's possible for such tactics to be useful for consumers and still be an illegal use of their dominant market position.

Compare MS and the bundled Internet Explorer: Yes, it was more convenient for people not to be required to download a browser after installing the OS.

But imagine if MS had been successful, and Internet Explorer had emerged as the only browser: Do you think that would have been in the common interest? (hint: around that time, they tried to get .doc established as the standard, replacing HTML)

> Compare MS and the bundled Internet Explorer: Yes, it was more convenient for people not to be required to download a browser after installing the OS.

That was a non-issue, as OEMs were able (and did often) pre-install any number of software packages on top of Windows. The issue was MS telling them "if you preinstall Netscape Navigator, you won't get any more Windows licenses from us". Among other things that were unequivocally harmful to consumers.

In the words of another poster, it sounds MS was punished for being very successful!

The thing about anti-trust is that being a monopoly is allowed. What's not allowed is using a monopoly position to get a large advantage in another market.

I'm not understanding that. You can be very successful without trying to prevent your business partners from making their products better for their clients.

I disagree that bundling IE in Windows harmed customers. If anything, it's silly to insist that an OS shouldn't come with a browser, since practically everyone uses a browser.

What should or shouldn't come with an OS is not up to bureaucrats to decide.

Going back in time, you can just as well argue that bundling Notepad in Windows is "illegal" or "anticompetitive" or what have you because it might have killed the market for third-party text editors.

"Does it benefit the consumer though?"

Isn't one of the big refrains here that competition always benefits the consumer?

This situation makes me think of the larger markets: We're wanting the short term benefit (Google prioritizing their results over others) at the expense of the long term benefit (healthy competition in the travel space).

I fail to see how showing links to search results pages from other companies is better for the consumer either. So why does Google do it?

Google is really smart, right? They've done some amazing things with search. Do we believe that Google doesn't know how to display those comparison search results page in a carousel like their own? Or is it that they don't want to?

Think about it for a second. What if Google did that, and they subjected their own comparison search results page to the same generic algorithm that they subjected everyone else's too?

Maybe it's too hard for Google. But they like standards: see AMP. So why not create some standard tags so everyone has a fair chance?

I don't know, it certainly looks like Google was exploiting its market dominance in general internet search to get a leg up in another industry without actually competing. That's not fair.

I feel it does benefit the consumer. You are assuming that google is going to show me the best search results etc for my query, while in reality they are displaying what suits them and their advertiser better.

Which is great for google, not exactly great for my interests however.

Google doesn't have to fulfill any interests of yours, though.

Exactly. Thats my point. Its not beholden to me. But alters what I see, based on what fulfills their interest, not what fulfills mine.

> Or you should be happy, that the EU actually uses their regulatory power to benefit the consumer no matter how big the company they're going against is.

So is the EU going to fine Apple for not allowing iPhone users to access third-party browsers?

At least Google doesn't force any lock-in with their platform here (the browser or search engine) - you're free to use any search engine you want.

I wouldn't be surprised if the commission would take a look at Apple in the future, but note that currently they are not dominant in the mobile market.

> So is the EU going to fine Apple for not allowing iPhone users to access third-party browsers?

They are not dominant in the market, but if they were I would hope so.

You have answered your own question: They don't do it, because Google, their competitor, does allow it, so there is choice.

> You have answered your own question: They don't do it, because Google, their competitor, does allow it, so there is choice.


Google doesn't force any lock-in on their platform, yet the EU fines them. Apple does, but the EU hasn't taken any action.

It is not platform vs. platform, it is iTunes vs. Playstore (not a monopoly, choice => no action needed) and Google Search vs. nobody essentially (overwhelming dominance, quasi monopoly => action needed).

The infoboxes are, in fact, one of the cases where Google regularly stole work from websites without permission and then denied them ad revenue by ensuring people didn't ever visit those sites to get it: https://theoutline.com/post/1399/how-google-ate-celebritynet...

Also, note that Bing doesn't lock you into their ecosystem in those boxes the way Google does. Take a look at "Uptown Funk":

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=uptown+funk - Links to YouTube and Play Music

https://www.bing.com/search?q=uptown+funk - Places YouTube up top, then links to Groove AND Amazon MP3 (If you search "The Cure Lady Gaga" it also offers iTunes. Apparently it doesn't know that iTunes has Uptown Funk as well. Oops.)

This is a live example of how Google violates antitrust law, but it's competitors do not.

> "user experience worse"

Not necessarily. I read this as saying that if other players have well marked up content, they should have their listings appear in infoboxes, perhaps alongside Google's. Not that the infoboxes be removed.

Pretty sure that's what Google Product Search used to do. They ended up having to change it because the resulting quality of those listings was terrible.

See https://commerce.googleblog.com/2012/05/building-better-shop...

Maybe if they tried again they could do better this time; I'm a little skeptical though.

Wow, the screenshot in the post is like a parody. (And that's the "new Google Shopping experience").


That's pretty much how ads on Google used to look. They've improved quite a bit since then.

I think that it is a form of protectionism by the EU. The EU does not want American companies to have monopoly in Europe. At one point, EU was giving grants to anyone who can build a competitor to Google. With this and similar rulings, EU is twisting the arms of American companies and making it harder to do business in Europe. This strategy is straight out of the playbook of China.

> The EU just used their regulatory power to force the world's biggest search engine to make their user experience worse in order to benefit other companies.

It's really quite simple, if Google's user experience hinges on them abusing their market dominance then they have no business in the EU.

Even if it means we can't have certain "nice things", I am perfectly okay with that.

Companies have power. Companies with market dominance have a disproportionate amount of power. Why should a company be allowed to wield all that power without being held responsible for it? So if you're gonna be a dominant company in the EU, you're going to have to take responsibility and not abuse your power to stifle competition.

It's not like the "before" situation you sketch couldn't have been improved in any other way. It just so happens that this particular way also ("conveniently") stifled competition in shopping sites by abuse of Google's market dominance in Search.

Why is this bad? Because abuse of market dominance doesn't always result in a better user experience or product. And we can't even be sure that was actually the case now, because of this market dominance, no other company got a chance, the only way was Google.

Also, the problem in your "before" situation was Google serving its users search results that were spammed to death with low quality SEO crap. This was Google's problem (sure it's a really hard problem, but it's theirs). That shit could only thrive because of Google's popularity. Any real competition, like normal price comparison sites, were already suffering because of this (or worse, forced to join this dark side).

The thing is, this problem had nothing to do with the actual competition. But Google chose the solution (abuse market dominance) which drove them into obscurity. Eventually SEO-spammers (whose core business was never price comparison sites) found other ways to game and abuse the system.

If Google would've done nothing, people would have stopped using Google for finding price comparison sites (and back then, Google was really very good for many other things) because the SEO spam isn't useful. Then competing price comparison sites would have had a chance, and who knows, maybe Google's actual web-searching user experience (which is terrible today) would have remained better. I mean that's what we lost when Google tried to become the sites it linked to, instead of helping people find them. Not saying this would be the only solution, it's obviously not as profitable as Google has been while abusing their market dominance, maybe they could have found something responsible in between.

Also, we gotta be consistent. If the EU Commission on antitrust could say "we'll allow it this time because we kinda like the end result", THEN you should be scared, really really scared. Arbitrary application of the law is very bad, every time you encounter it, no matter what.

The Commission established that they've been abusing their market dominance since 2011 (or 2008). Market dominance put Google in a special position of responsibility, they are now being held to that.

I do wonder how you'd really feel if you got your wish, and your "google.com" tomorrow resulted in a "HTTP 451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons"

I mean, that's just silly.

So really you are angry at Microsoft, not the EU.

This is a complete false equivalence. If placing Google's own shopping results in the top spot improves user experience to that extent, they could and should do it organically.

> I'll probably get down voted

Damn, I hate this trend of making you comments appear more controversial.

> What's next?

You really should not argue this point. We need to stop "big" companies doing "anti-consumer" practices. The reason why those terms are in quotation marks is because when you are discussing antitrust and monopoly laws those terms are not well defined. You should only look at these rulings per-case basis.

If on the other hand you believe in the benefits of the "free for all market", you just have to be aware that this is not an opinion shared by EU citizens.

Don't pretend to speak for "EU citizens". What have we got to do with Brussels and Microsoft stealing money from Google? Google is not a utility, it is a product company and you are free to use other companies products

> you are free to use other companies products

It doesn't work like that. Because of their market dominance, there really are no alternatives. This is a combination of companies simply giving up on competing with Google, but also in terms of SEO, Google is the only one that matters for publishers and advertisers drive profits towards Google as well. Mobile? They now own it.

And btw, if you'll mention DuckDuckGo or Bing, the there's a high probability you're not living in the EU, since those are really, really bad at local or non-English searches.

> It doesn't work like that.

Then don't use any. You are not entitled to it, nobody has any obligation to have a service that does what you want.

Well, if it's my backyard you're talking about, a company doing business in it might as well obey the house rules.

Google isn't entitled to doing business in the EU either. If they do, then they need to follow the law.

By the same logic Google could also abandon the EU market. But they most probably will not. So Google should stick with what they get.

Pure pragmatism.

EU citizens vote in their national elections. EC members are nominated by national governments. If your government appointed someone that you feel doesn't represent your interests and you feel strongly about it, you should vote for someone else in the next election. This is exactly how representative democracy should work.

Yet polls across the world have shown this logic to be very flawed. The citizens often disagree with the actions of their representatives. That's a flaw of representative democracy itself.

Point is, representative democracy doesn't mean the action of the representative is the one the population agrees with.

>you are free to use other companies products

I don't have the freedom to use another search engine with the scale and access to user data that Google has because the barriers to entry in this market are staggeringly high.

Staggeringly high barrier to entry == utility

>stealing money

Google has the freedom to not pay the fine and shut down operations in the EU.

>>Damn, I hate this trend of making you comments appear more controversial.

I take it as a way of saying "this will probably be a controversial opinion here, but..." which is totally fine.

It's a good way to preemptively color the reader's perception of your comment. Makes you seem more reasonable and knowledgeable when you seemingly recognize the controversial nature of what you're saying, even if it isn't actually that controversial at all. It's a commonly-seen tactic on reddit.

Which this place is becoming. Where should I migrate to?

Once you gain a certain amount of market share you no longer have the right to engage in certain kinds of anti-competitive actions. There's nothing extreme about that; the laws have been in place for over a century.

The anti-competitive practices you're talking about is not being able to decide what content gets displayed on your own website, what relevant information you're allowed to show Users in response to their search results and being forced to give your competitors more prominence. AFAIK this has never been written into law or ruled illegal before.

The specifics are unimportant. What matters is that Google was using its dominance in one market to gain an advantage in a different market. That has been illegal for a long time.

When has this ever happened to a website before?

The EU doesn't do[0] Common Law (Case Law), like the US does, we have Civil Law here. It means precedence doesn't carry (as much) weight. It's a different legal system. It also means it has been written (codified) into law, unlike your previous comment states. You can read it in the article and links followed from there (it doesn't need to be written to specifically apply to websites).


Be sure to also check out the coloured map at the top :)

[0] it's a bit more subtle, distinctions have blurred a little over time, either legal system adopted some parts of the other. see the wikipedia link for more details (especially the heading "Alternatives to Common Law systems")

To my knowledge it hasn't. But that's irrelevant.

Of course it's relevant. There is no lock-in preventing you from visiting other Websites which are just a url or hyperlink away. When was Google Search ruled a website monopoly? What were the parameters? Who's defined the boundaries of what a search service can do and what relevant content they can provide? At what point should Google have known they've had to cede control of their own website and invest resources in giving their competitors more prominence?

What other websites need to be wary of the same ruling and at what point do they need to focus their efforts on giving their competitors virtual real-estate on their website at the expense of growing their company?

If you have more than 50% market share in a given market you're considered a monopoly. Although practically, these type of actions aren't usually taken until around 75% market share.

In the US too.

The US just oddly decides not to enforce it, then the EU gets shit on for being anti-American when they correctly enforce things that are illegal in both the EU and US.

"The US just oddly decides not to enforce it"

They enforced it for Microsoft in 2001. Since then tech behemoth political donations have shot up.

> being forced to give your competitors more prominence

No, they are being forced to give their competitors equal prominence.

The press release literally says: "the Decision orders Google to comply with the simple principle of giving equal treatment to rival comparison shopping services and its own service"

Sounds a lot like deciding what programs are included in your operating system. Do you consider this materially different, and if so why?

I do consider this materially different.

From the Wikipedia summary of United States v. Microsoft Corporation[0], "Underlying these disputes were questions over whether Microsoft altered or manipulated its application programming interfaces (APIs) to favor Internet Explorer over third party web browsers, Microsoft's conduct in forming restrictive licensing agreements with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and Microsoft's intent in its course of conduct."

I feel like this detail is being lost in a lot of the comparisons I've seen made between Google now and Microsoft then. Google promotes their own services on their own website, sure. At the same time, they haven't changed Chrome to not load competing services. They have done nothing to prevent users from using competing search engines in Chrome. They don't prevent competing web browsers from loading Google sites. They don't force web sites that use Google ads to block competing browsers.

So the parallel doesn't work for me. The EU decided these were different markets, I disagree. I'm a user, I use Google to find things on the internet. I use other sites. I search Amazon directly from inside Chrome, I visit other sites without issue... I'm just not seeing the anticompetitive actions.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor....

This has nothing to do with Chrome. It's entirely about the search engine and the results it gives.

(Though google does set up special APIs for Chrome first, like SPDY. But that's done in a responsible way.)

You can easily go to another website if you want results from a different vendor. If you're searching on Google you'd expect results curated from Google, if you can get better, more relevant results else where, everyone can easily do so. I also wouldn't expect any of my Desktop Apps to be laced with content or functionality from competitive products.

Applying this line of reasoning, do you disagree with the EU ruling about browser choice that Microsoft had to comply with?

What line of reasoning? I don't think irremovable Desktop Apps and Websites are comparable or that they should be sanctioned the same way.

It didn't have to be a ballot box but I think users should be able to decide what default browser they want to use on first use. I'd prefer to only be install what browsers I want to use.

IMO Microsoft is just as hostile now, I can't uninstall Edge from Windows 10, I keep getting nagged to use Edge as my default browser, my preferences to never ask again are not honored. my defaults are lost on each upgrade, despite setting my default browser to Chrome the Windows Search box still opens up results in bing with Edge, I need to use my spam hotmail account to log into Windows 10, I tried using a local account but it broke everywhere that launched a Sign Up page which crashed after 1s of an empty screen, which I needed in order to get the latest version of WSL with the bug fix I needed. In the end I had to reinstall Windows 10 and adopt their stupid Internet account policy. Windows 10 has been the most user hostile OS I've used that I'm planning on switching to using a Windows 2016 Server OS on my next install.

Twice wrong, doesn't make it right.

> AFAIK this has never been written into law or ruled illegal before.

Doesn't seem that different from the case against Microsoft over Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player?

One was an operating that had a monopoly that was nearly impossible switch away from and was bundling software to destroy specific competitors.

The other is a web page with tons of competitors, many of which work well, deciding what their own computers after you specifically requested them to do so.

No, the point is that Google is using their dominance in search, which isn't easy to switch away from, to compete in price comparisons. Google just having a price comparison tool isn't the problem, it's when they include it as a part of search. Which is using their dominant position.

While whether you can switch might be important from a user standpoint it's not necessarily a factor from a market standpoint. It's more about how much power you have and how you use that power. It might be very easy to switch to Bing, but Google still have power over >90% of the search market.

How does starting a comments with blanket refutation help encourage open discussion? Why do people, including you start a comment with "No,"?

Type bing or duckduckgo in and you have switched, how is that hard?

US vs Microsoft was completely different.

I'm referring to Microsoft v Commission (EU) and related events.

Fair enough! I haven't read the details of that decision.

I see your point and actually agree to an extent. But controlling what goes on on the company's own website doesn't sit well to me. Take this example:

Walmart has a hair salon in many of their stores. Walmart's primary business model is not hair but product sales. But obviously Walmart wants you to get their hair cut at their salon. This is similar to the government stepping in and saying that the store must allow other Salon's equal placement in their building. They own the building.

It would be anti-competitive to do something to prevent other salons from opening down the street or lowering the prices in their salon to bellow cost to push out competition. But I don't buy that they can't do what they want in their own store.

Well if Wal-Mart owned 95%+ of the retail space in Europe, you can be pretty sure they'd have to allow competitors access in some form or another.

> But I don't buy that they can't do what they want in their own store.

Then you're unfamiliar with anti-trust law.

Everyone in the universe is.

Unlike Google in Europe, Walmart doesn't control 90% of the market.

What market, do people have contracts with Google that I am not aware of?

Oh right, no, and what they have in their website promises no expectation of doing what you need.

"It is generally conceded in our age that a critically strategic producer has an obligation to the public for the sake of the common good."

And what happens if Google says, "f* it, we're not providing a utility, we're not taking traffic from European IPs anymore"?

I am no anarcho-capitalist, but I really think more folks should read Atlas Shrugged.

Even if Google did this, and got past the shareholder lawsuits, what would happen?

Nothing much. Someone else would step in. Greed and free markets makes the "Atlas Shrugged" scenario nonsense. I'm sure there are millions of smart people who would love it if all the other smart people stopped producing. All it means is more market share for them.

I'm guessing you're posting this as someone who is fully sucked into the Google ecosystem. I was too. But the only Google product I use anymore is Google maps. No more email, no more search, no more android.

Google is very far from indispensable.

Thanks for the response.

I use Google fairly heavily through work and my personal email, but IDK about "fully sucked into" - I have no smartphone, don't use GCal, etc.

Rather than lauding Google, I meant to criticize the idea that the public has a right to a private service.

You named a few Google products to be contrarian and think that Google is far from indispensable? I'm calling bullshit because I'm willing to bet most of the non-Google products you use use Google somewhere in the chain.

I wasn't attempting to be contrarian, I was saying alternatives exist. Even in a business context. Our company uses Google for many things, but there are alternatives. The switching cost is high, but that doesn't make Google indispensable in my book.

Then let them. And then the shareholders and the board would rise up against whoever decided to have Google "go Galt", because they know that they make far more money in Europe than not being in Europe.

Very rarely does acting like a child and "taking your ball and go home" work out.

Then they'd be as stupid as some random Ayn Rand fan on the internet, and wouldn't be running Google.

Thanks for the response.

I disagree with Rand on many important issues.

I think your reply is tantamount to an ad hominem fallacy.

Google isn't a charity, and is under no obligation to serve Europe. It's in Europe, and will remain in Europe because it is profitable to remain there.

This goes both ways.

So? If Google leaves, there's always Bing, DDG, the search engine formerly known as Yahoo!, Yandex...

No, I meant corporations are allowed to exist and operate in no small part for their value to a society, not just for societies value to them. As in, $country is no charity for $corporation either.

>I might be in a minority here

Nope. It's crazy. You don't go to the most popular restaurant in town and have them tell you to go get desert across the street because the superior food and experience hurt their sales.

Even looking at the commissions fact sheet (Search Engine market share) [0]. 3 of the 4 other companies are billion dollar enterprises. Microsoft decided to make it difficult to switch to Chrome/Google in Windows 10 (no more 1 click). With this consumers are still switching back.

Out of all the bad shit google does, this shouldn't even be on the radar.

For the other end of the story this is an interesting read [1].

[0] - http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-17-1785_en.htm [1] - http://www.foundem.co.uk/Foundem_Google_Timeline.pdf

> Nope. It's crazy. You don't go to the most popular restaurant in town and have them tell you to go get desert across the street because the superior food and experience hurt their sales.

Which is why they determined Google's market dominance in Search, not shopping sites.

Your analogy should be about the single most popular restaurant guide in town, opening up their own restaurant and then only writing reviews for that.

The quality of Google's in-house shopping business didn't factor into the EU Commission's rulings at all. Which makes a lot of sense because, given Google's market dominance in Search, it is impossible to know if their shopping business is in fact superior or not, because they abused that power (gained from Search, not building a superior shopping business) to stifle any competition.

As the article clearly states, market dominance is not illegal (like your restaurant analogy suggests), irresponsibly abusing the power that comes with it is.

Lots of tourist towns have sponsored free maps that do exactly this.

That is not a similar analogy at all.

"While it made me angry when Google put their results above ours, I never questioned that they had a right to do that. It is their website."

The website is theirs, but the content they scan through and link to is not theirs. Google Search is of incredible value (to us in form of service _and_ to Google in form of an asset), but it's been built on top other people's content. They took that content for free. Perhaps it gives those "others" some rights in deciding what kinds of things can be done with such a service. It could be done through law, conversation, or applying a fine when a large enough group of representatives of a large market decide that maybe they do something a bit off.

> They took that content for free.

Because it was freely available. As I understand it, Google feed its database with robots surfing the web. Those robots don't steel anything. Moreover, if I'm not mistaken you can explicitly forbid access to those robots with a robots.txt file or something. If you don't, it arguably means you give away your data to everyone.


> this result scares me [...] I never questioned that they had a right to do that. It is their website

Are you serious? By this logic Microsoft could do whatever they wanted with Windows. Yes, when you're big enough to absolutely dominate a market you can't just use that to make rules that kick out everyone else.

Their site runs on their server and is free to visit. Micosoft runs their products like Windows and Office on YOUR machine. That's the difference.

> [Google's site] runs on their server [...] Micosoft runs their products like Windows and Office on YOUR machine

That's not a significant difference - Google's site renders on your machine too. Google's servers send you computer code (HTML, Javascript) and Microsoft's servers also send you computer code (Windows binaries).

> [Google's site] is free to visit

The use of API calls in Windows is also free. Would you be OK with Windows servicing Chrome and Dropbox several times slower than Microsoft products? There was a huge antitrust case about this in the '90s.

No. You run their products on your machine.

1) Google has a monopoly on "searching" the internet.

2) Their search algorithm ranks google products at the top of the results.

3) They cannot prove that their products are being held to the same standards as everyone else, because the algorithm they use to rank results is not public.

I think Google could have any two of these, without being in anti-trust domain.

> At what point does a company cross the line and become one that the EU feels can no longer promote their own product?

When a company uses a monopoly in one field (web search) to boost their other businesses.

It's the same when Microsoft were convicted in the US of using the desktop OS monopoly to boost their web browser business.

Microsoft never had a "web browser business" they wanted to boost. They had an OS monopoly they preserved illegally like the mob. Not the same.

It's really not hard to understand, and if you're a CTO you should probably be aware of how this works. It's an abuse when a company uses their dominance in one area (like search) to undermine their competitors in a different market (like product comparison and shopping).

That's the case here, and it was the case when Microsoft got in trouble for bundling IE with Windows.

I'm actually glad to see this ruling. It's nice to know there's at least one place in the world where the government still cares a little bit about not letting giant corporations take advantage of their citizens.

To me it shows why "big government" is a necessity (as well as a curse).

You can't regulate a company that is bigger than the enforcer of the regulations.

I don't see it. The governor on my engine isn't larger than the engine.

Where is Google's jugular, for that regulatory thumb?

Okay, but what about when Google actively demotes you, so its products do even better? Are you okay with that, too, because "it's their website", or do you expect more from a "search engine company"?

> Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results: rival comparison shopping services appear in Google's search results on the basis of Google's generic search algorithms. Google has included a number of criteria in these algorithms, as a result of which rival comparison shopping services are demoted. Evidence shows that even the most highly ranked rival service appears on average only on page four of Google's search results, and others appear even further down. Google's own comparison shopping service is not subject to Google's generic search algorithms, including such demotions.

> As a result, Google's comparison shopping service is much more visible to consumers in Google's search results, whilst rival comparison shopping services are much less visible.

Your comment reads like you haven't even read the EC press release. I suggest you do that first.

>They are not a utility.

It actually seems to match the definition of public utility perfectly. The infrastructural cost of building another Google is incredibly high and people rely heavily upon it.

You can "just build another google" the same way you can "just build an electricity network" for a large town.

You can build another shitty clone to Google search cheaply. Elasticsearch plus some bots crawling fed off a queue can give you an approximation of Google that is useful to a lot of people (albeit not cheap to keep running). I cannot build even a shitty fascimile of an electrical grid cheaply because I need permits for digging, to deal with existing infrastructure, and I need serious capital (an order of magnitude more, at least) to build and maintain some sort of generation capability.

That's exactly what they're doing in Brooklyn:


That would scale just about as well as your crappy elastic search thing would.

I can demo an alternative to Google Search in a weekend. I can throw comparatively small amounts of money to improve it (e.g. add more sites) such that it is extremely useful to find sites that I designate to have crawled (and it's not difficult to crawl the top N sites). My algorithms will be worse, my crawler less efficient, I probably will ignore javascript, my database will be larger than it needs to be, but none of that matters to an end user who wants to type in some text and get a list of results. My product would be worse in every way something can be worse, yet still satisfy the needs for a sizeable majority of users. It can scale out in known ways (way more expensive than google does it, slower than google does it, etc) by largely paying salary and hosting costs.

I absolutely cannot decide I want to install some poles to run electricity through a town without permits, insurance, inspections, and a ton of capital. I can't decide I want to build my own power plant and sell energy to my new grid without jumping through a lot of hoops, some of those hoops only a mountain range of cash can solve (compared to the merely large pile you'd need to run a credible regional alternative to google search for some segment of the population).

>compared to the merely large pile you'd need to run a credible regional alternative to google search for some segment of the population

How exactly would a credible regional alternative to google work and why are there exactly zero of them if it's so easy?

What else would you call DuckDuckGo? Easy is relative. It is relatively easy to build a search engine that can service a user's requests (possibly less useful absolutely, but within the realm of service) compared to building an electric grid and power plant that can handle a large number of user's power needs. One of these can be done with technical skill to get to an MVP in a weekend. The other requires a hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, legal fees, permits, and engineering time before you even get started digging.

>What else would you call DuckDuckGo?

A user of bing's search index with extra features sprinkled on top. It's comparable to one of these:


They did not build the necessary expensive infrastructure for a search engine, they lease it. This actually kind of proves my point.

A company called Cuil tried to do exactly what you're suggesting. The reason you're probably saying "who?" now kinda proves my point too.

Maybe the answer is that Google should be a utility. Search is obviously a natural monopoly.

Can you deign to explain why you think so, or is it so obvious that I should just be ashamed for not seeing it?

Perhaps obvious was not a good choice. Anyways:

I would say Google is as close to a natural monopoly as the Bell System was in 1956. If you came to me and said “Hey, I want to start a company to compete with Google in search,” I would say you’re out of your mind and don’t waste your energy or your time or your money, there’s just no way. Classic economics would say that if there’s a business in which there are 35 percent net margins, that would attract a huge amount of new capital to capture some of that, and none of that has happened. That tells you there’s something wrong.

From: https://promarket.org/google-close-natural-monopoly-bell-sys...

Water companies are a utility because there's a high cost to laying the pipes and the more pipes you lay, the more people you service, the more pipes you can afford to lay. It's near impossible for an upstart water company to come in and displace the incumbent.

Search companies should be a utility because there's a high cost to gathering the data needed to drive good results and the more data you gather, the better results you give, the more data you gather. It's near impossible for an upstart search company to come in and displace the incumbent.

Crawling the web is easy now. Your point makes sense if the behavioral data they acquire from users makes a huge difference. Maybe it does, but I feel like someone can build a better mousetrap and be better than Google, even without behavioral data. Google, right now, is thought to have the best mousetrap, not simply one well-tuned to a large mouse behavior dataset.

Maybe I'm wrong about that--I'm sure ML has become increasingly important in how Google ranks results, but I'm unconvinced that it's a severely anti-competitive factor.

(That said, I do still use Google over DDG largely because of the personalization and the integration with their other services.)

> I feel like someone can build a better mousetrap and be better than Google

Where are the someones then? Look through Show HN and you'll see all sorts of cool projects and upstart companies. How many of them are search? We've got a huge flood of companies trying to take down the taxi industry, where's the flood to take out Google? It doesn't exist because everyone knows they can't win.

Here's the Show HN for search: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=show%20search&sort=byPopularit...

Do you see any of these dethroning google? Almost none even bother to compete in general search, just in small specific areas.

crawling the web is only easy if all you ever do is following hrefs... we're in the world of single-page turing-complete web apps and you're underestimating the amount of pure compute, ingress and egress bandwidth necessary to keep the index up to date. there's a reason google has designed and built their data centers, their server chassis and even power supply.

Mere difficulty of a problem does not make those who do solve it a natural monopoly. Of course these player may still be a practical (in effect) monopoly due to their being way better than the competition.

Making a kickass image editing application like Adobe Photoshop is difficult too (as anyone who has had to suffer GIMP would attest), but that doesn't mean Photoshop forms a natural monopoly.

I feel like you're describing growth in general, not natural monopolies specifically.

There's a high cost to building a store and the more stores you build, the more customers you serve, the more stores you can afford to build.

There's a high cost to making a movie and the more movies you make, the more people pay to see your movies, the more movies you can afford to make.

Sure, barriers are a gray area. In society we draw a sort of arbitrary line for when they're high enough to represent a natural monopoly. We've decided that electric and water companies for example represent high enough fixed costs to warrant being a utility. So the question then becomes how much do you think it would cost to build a search engine as good as Google? I'd say that number is probably ginormous, hence why it should be treated as a utility.

Sure, and growth in general is not always a good thing.

What makes a natural monopoly different from a monopoly?

How did Google displace previous search engines?

A natural monopoly has a positive feedback loop, where monopoly profits can be used to lock out competitors. This is typically due to network effects.

Building roads is an example of a natural monopoly. Consumer internet is an example of a natural monopoly. Growing corn is not a natural monopoly.

> Growing corn is not a natural monopoly.

In the absence of a third-party with IP rights on seed, dominating corn growing means you dominate the seed supply and have the most variety to select from for improved traits (whether yield, hardiness to particular environmental stresses, etc.)

Seems to have a pretty clear feedback loop where dominance breeds dominance in the same way as with network effects. Sure, the source of the feedback loop is different, but it's very much there.

Public utilities are public because of the vast expense of building and maintaining the infrastructure required to run them and because of how much people rely upon it.

This applies 100% to Google. Even it's closest "startup competitor" hangs off bing's index.

not sure why you're being downvoted, it's a very valid question in the digital age.

The article seems really pretty clear about that line: market dominance. As another commenter said, it's an extremely well-written and clear article.

Did your price comparison site at any time seem likely to be able to dominate the entire EU market? (you can find the exact criteria on the EU site)

If no, you got no problem to worry about.

If yes, that's a kind of nice problem to have I think.

> What's next? Having to give equal ranking to Yahoo! search results in their search page?

Why would anything be next? We have this rule, it works well, has worked in the past, what's the incentive to make it worse?

Your Yahoo!Search example doesn't make sense to me. Not in context of this ruling, any way. How would Google abuse their market dominance in order to ... what exactly, because you didn't specify any wrongdoing, just a crazy sanction pulled out of thin air.

It's not the market dominance itself that is illegal. It's just that if you do it, dominate a market to such an extent, you are held to special responsibilities not to abuse that dominance. Which totally makes sense.

From the article:

"""Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets."""

It's just like that famous Spiderman quote.

Also the ruling is not about a particular party (like Yahoo in yours) that got wronged by an illegal abuse of Google's market dominance, it's about all of them, about the responsibility not to actively stifle competition. You can still be better than the competition, Google is obviously allowed to "hurt" Yahoo by providing better search results, that's what it means when they say dominance is as such not illegal under antitrust. It's just that, in some (but not all) cases of market dominance, it comes with additional power by virtue of dominance (not product), that allows a company to stifle competition (not because they're better but because the competition is not dominant), and antitrust law states that companies in such a position have a responsibility not to do this. Yet Google did. I'm not really seeing how Google could do something similar that involves Yahoo in your example.

About your One Box (that's the Google instant result thing yes?) example, if Google were in the theatre business, I'm pretty sure the Commission would investigate that case for antitrust as well. How that ruling would go, will depend on the specifics of that hypothetical situation, and whether it qualifies along the guidelines as stated partially in the article, and fully in EU regulations on antitrust (which you can click to for yourself).

Applying well documented authoritarianism doesn't make it less so.

There are regulations made to prevent monopoly, abuse of market dominance, etc, which are supposed to guarantee a fair market.

It bites everyone, every kind of group where some competition is involved, even smaller companies, and we all agree on that.

However, when Google is touched, we all feel that we don't live anymore in a free world, that communism has won, etc - at least that's the kind of feeling I perceive every time they have to pay for something.

Why the break up of the Bell System [0]. Afterall it's their business, right?

Why was Microsoft forced (back then) to let people choose which browser to install? Same reason.

I don't know if you have ever read the book "Thinking in systems - D. Meadows", there is an interesting chapter about this which explains why such regulations are important.

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakup_of_the_Bell_System

> While it made me angry when Google put their results above ours, I never questioned that they had a right to do that. It is their website.

Then, if in future, lets say Google will be the only search engine that is still alive and used by 99% users and Google will choose to get your site/business out of their site/search results (based on what you wrote - it's their website so they can do whatever they want) it will be fine also?

People writing things like this really should read why anti trust laws were introduced in the first place.

Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Article 54 of the EEA Agreement prohibit abuse of a dominant position.

Being able to dominate one market enables you possibilities to dominate other markets as well by abusing your dominant position.

> They are not a utility.

In many ways, they are. They didn't sign up for it, yet here we are..

They are an advertising company blowing money on free inducements to get you to click on their ads. Utilities don't work that way.

I think that you understand quite well what I'm saying but you're trying to construct an argument now to protect you from adapting your opinion.

Incorporation is a charter to do business in the service of society. It's not carte blanche. There is no right to profit(eering).

The smart play is to skim off the top, maintain some fiction of competition, and horde the loot.

> At what point does a company cross the line and become one that the EU feels can no longer promote their own product?

Easy: when you have a dominant market position.

Anti-trust applies when a company has extreme dominance, like over 90% (which Google does have in Europe). Same applied to Microsoft.

You are actually wrong, they have been classed as an essential platform, see the discussion in regards to the NIS directive and its application to Google.

The press release is well written. It explains why Google is fined in an easy way to understand, covering most aspects; what is the problematic behavior, why it is considered as problematic, which data lead to this decision, etc, whilst not painting the company in a negative light.

Opinions on the decision will sure differ among readers, but I think the decision is in place with the majority of EU citizens' consensus.

I came to say exactly that. That's a very well written statement that clarifies the situation more than any news outlet I happened to read on the case.

As for the decision, it may seem unfair for Google, but the European commission has to look at the bigger picture: its search dominance is so big that it gives Google an unfair advantage when competing in other business sectors, driving others out of competition even if they have a much better product. That's not good for society in the long run

Google's search results have become more than just a directory of websites like it was in previous years.

It now integrates tons of specialized results such as embedded videos and smart answers to direct questions. It will only move further and further away from simple lists of sites as their AI improves.

I fear this fine will deter innovation here as any special results Google adds will be scrutinized heavily. It's also very possible the complex data they need for it's 'smart' results aren't available by integrating with other 3rd party services (at least not initially), which is likely why Google even created these competing services in the first place.

If Google was merely a Yellow Pages style service as it was previously then I'd be more sympathetic to the idea of distorted rankings favouring Google services but that's becoming less and less the typical user experience.

>If Google was merely a Yellow Pages style service as it was previously then I'd be more sympathetic to the idea of distorted rankings favouring Google services but that's becoming less and less the typical user experience.

Well, I'm primarily agains the idea of giving a single, non democratically controlled non-international entity, so much power.

To the point where I don't care if Google is forced to stop innovating in being a "one stop shop" for the internet if that means more distributed sources and more distributed (even if lower quality and with fewer resources) innovation.

Sometimes, when it comes to society, it's best to have less technology more uniformly distributed than a single source of highly advanced technology.

Do you think an organization like EU can effectively fine or regulate their way to a more uniform market though?

Google could partner with other companies to do integration in their search engine for those smart results but then they'd just be giving another company an unfair advantage.

I don't see how you could stop this without crippling the type of answers Google provides. Besides maybe offering open tools they could automously integrate with.

Google pushed for adding metadata so any web developer can add things like star ratings and pricing directly to SERPs. But the adoption has been limited and limited compared to a full custom integration with a web service they control.

But regardless Google is a monopoly that we can't really do much about. Plenty of people have tried to compete and failed so there will be some consequences of that.

Considering how important the tool is to the world I'm quite the opposite. I'd rather let Google have a few specialized subsites which they can dominate a few markets with ease, in exchange for not severely limiting the potential of their technology - a technology we are all stuck using for the foreseeable future.

> But regardless Google is a monopoly that we can't really do much about. Plenty of people have tried to compete and failed so there will be some consequences of that.

The fine is focused on Google Shopping. I'd say the biggest competitors are Amazon and eBay.

While I'm unsure if the EU can effectively do something about Google as a search engine monopoly, I'm pretty sure Google can be beaten in the e-commerce sector.

Step by step, down the giants. Claiming the resolution of the matter in a single step is unrealistic.

> Step by step, down the giants. Claiming the resolution of the matter in a single step is unrealistic.

My concern is that even one step like the fine here will significantly chill their innovation with their search service in every category. As they will see adding any special advanced listings in search results as a big risk of being fined.

We're stuck with this giant so I'm not sure why you want to down it when there won't be comparable alternatives popping up in it's place.

This isn't just Google shopping being pushed further down the results ranking but how the shopping subsite is deeply integrated into the search results.

Which is why I said the proposed solution is regressing search engines back to simple directories which harms customers for some neglible gain for other small companies.

I guess we have very different concepts about innovation. First and foremost the term “service” as posed here seems too broad: in the years Google decided to change and extend what the given service is.

Exploiting your existing user base, in order to get traction for your next service, that in your opinion gives an added value, is not what I’d call innovation. If your new product or service is really innovative, then you don’t need this kind of tricks to get traction, users will come to you (because of the added value your new service gives to them).

The early Google was innovative, and won over the other search engines because of that.

If you are not able to get traction without this, then what you call innovation is not innovative, and you’re overestimating your product. For me (and apparently for the eu commission too), the rest is simple propaganda. Some find comfortable to believe it, probably because it’s profitable for them.

I don’t know what is the climate inside Google, but if this is able to significantly chill their “innovation”, then I think that they’re simply waiting for the next big thing in tech.

I actually found Google way better before it had all these integrated advanced features. It was technically never a "directory" though (like Yahoo ... Categories, or something?), it was a web search engine.

And it really sucks at web search today, compared to before (~10-15 years ago).

This is personal opinion of course but your argument depends on all this innovation always being an improvement to society. But Google innovates to improve its profits, which sometimes aligns with public interest, and sometimes not.

If it doesn't necessarily improve things for society, why would a company have a right to innovate despite everything else? Especially if you have to weigh it against the abuse of market dominance power to stifle competition (also deterring innovation, btw).

>Do you think an organisation like EU can effectively fine or regulate their way to a more uniform market though?

Maybe or maybe not, but fining seems like a step in the right direction.

>I don't see how you could stop this without crippling the type of answers Google provides.

As I wrote above, I'm all for crippling them if that's what it takes. But turning them into some kind of public infrastructure is another way.

Well, Google is a dominant market force, even if it is dominant because it is simply that useful so that everybody has to use it.

Because of that dominance, it deserves, no, requires scrutiny much, much more than not being deterred innovation. The latter is a "nice thing", the former is a necessity. Sorry but if you're that big, that dominant, of course we're going to scrutinize your responsibilities. If that's going to mean less fancy features, sad but so be it, the alternative is letting Google abuse all that power unchecked!

edit: I think coldtea said it better (in this same subthread) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14645033

Take the money Google made by breaking the law and give it to non-profit foundations which are dedicated to developing free/libre alternatives to Google services.

This will kill two birds with one stone--firstly it will correct the economic damage Google has caused by abusing their monopoly position. Secondly it will make it harder for them to maintain and abuse their monopoly in the future.

The software industry today is filled with companies who seek to establish a monopoly so that they can extract monopoly rents. This behavior almost always skirts the boundaries of legality, and it's getting worse. Companies are being created with the explicit business model of throwing huge sums of money at illegal activity in order to establish market dominance--see Uber.

Monopolies are not good for markets and this belief is already reflected in our antitrust laws. We need to give those laws some teeth and come up with creative solutions that don't just punish bad behavior, but also encourage competition.

*> Take the money [...] give it to non-profit foundations

Even better: Make Google pay them directly. I don't know if that is possible on European level, but here in Germany, fines are often paid directly from the criminal to the non-profit, which is usually chosen in a round-robin-like fashion from the local non-profits in the criminal's (or court's) region.

Absolutely. Next up, the Adsense and Android antitrust cases. How do I know? I googled it: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-google-antitrust-idUSKB...

> How do I know?

Umm, it says so in the article, the googling was unnecessary.

At this point they are also apparently abusing their capcha. You use it from Firefox, solve like 3 different captcha, my most recent experience with Cloudflare. Use it from Chrome, instant check after failing a login. And it's from the same IP that has done it over and over again. If you were the least bit intelligent you would not do this... unless you were trying to make the user experience of other browsers worse than yours by abusing a commonly offered service that you offer for free. Going forward this is worrying for other Google services as well and their cloud offering. Are they going to add a delay in responding to certain browsers, I dunno. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation, I dunno

They do a lot of profiling. Like if you're logged into a google account at the time, and other session checks. Perhaps your browsers had different cookies/localStorage, which could explain it.

Say that this is true. Google can only use its own data from its own browser to improve the web and penalizes everyone who is not using their browser. The result is the same. Google has a monopoly on your experience of the web... because it is optimized for users of its browser.

> Say that this is true. Google can only use its own data from its own browser to improve the web and penalizes everyone who is not using their browser.

No, it also works on other browsers. I know because I exclusively use Safari and I encounter this one-click-captcha thing regularly.

The thing is it only works on browsers you use regularly. It looks like they are analysing/tracking the behaviour of your browser (using google ads and other assets embedded in web pages) and determine if your browsing behaviour matches that of a human.

Okay say that this is true, then if you want any sort of decent user experience you MUST let Google track you and analyze your behavior. So many ways for Google to win. So many ways for the user to lose. I do run a bunch of stuff on my Firefox to prevent that, perhaps that's a reasonable explanation as to why.

Google owns the server, Google owns the client, Google owns DNS, Google owns domains, Google even owns > 50% of mobile. It's way too much ownership under one roof.

Yes, you must. Or you will encounter the normal annoying captcha like I do and I don't complain because it's my own decision to not be tracked and I know there are consequences for profiling and live with it.

You can't have your cake and eat it too, either you are for privacy and should expect the hassles this create or you want the convenience and have to pay with your privacy for it.

I don't really understand why are you pressing so much on this issue, you have choices with tradeoffs, as most things in life.

I don't really understand why are you pressing so much on this issue

You're acting like these are immutable laws of the universe rather than properties of google's design decisions.

I think your point wouldn't encounter as much resistance (or at least different resistance) if you just said something to the effect of "devoply, you're in the X% of users that google tolerates providing a sub-standard experience to, and I don't give a fuck either."

Yes that is pretty much the entire idea. If you don't let them track you, they don't have a reasonable assurance that you're a real legit non-malicious human being. So you get to fill out the actual captcha.

Pretty sweet deal, yeah? 99% of the population gets an easy checkbox, and all the people who care just need to fill out some questions to prove they're not a bot. It's not like you're blocked from using the form.

99% of the population. Last time checked significant portion of the population uses various tools including ad-blockers, and other privacy tools to decrease their online foot print. So that point is wholly incorrect. You mean significant portion of the population who does not mind being tracked constantly by Google. Most likely the most unsavy masses. Not anyone that cares about their privacy.

I use an adblocker and various other privacy tool (uMatrix user here). I still get one-click checkbox most of the time. I'm logged into my google account.

> Last time checked significant portion of the population uses various tools including ad-blockers, and other privacy tools to decrease their online foot print.

In what alternate reality ?

"PageFair 2017 ad blocking report: Usage up 30%"

Whether or not that number is correct, it's definitely a significant portion of the population doing it.

30% from what starting base? If the number was relatively small to begin with, 30% growth doesn't really mean much.

Oh, I'm sorry, I misread that title as "up to", because I viewed it right after a slightly older headline saying "IAB Study Says 26% of Desktop Users Turn On Ad Blockers". So go with 26% as a possibly-high number. I very much doubt the number is under 10%. It's a lot of people.

It isn't always a "just fill out some questions" issue; some of the captas they show are essentially impossible for humans. The one Google service I can't avoid (well, maps also but I can't reember a problem there) is Google Scholar and I occasionally get the almost impossible captchas there (I think I got one out of at least six I tried on different occasions). Logging in avoids the issue (and tends to fix it for a while without logging in... I think an IP address range thing in my case).

The worst part is when you need to prove to Google who you are when already logged in to a (non-Google) online store that you have purchased from previously. That is just rediculous and seems to be getting more common. At least those are not impossible, but still. I do not know if Google has anything to do with promoting that use but if they do they should be held responsible for that (as well as the businesses that use such things).

Obviously it's up to the sites to decide when to present a captcha.

In some sense, sure, thus my use of the word promote. Depending on what (if anything) Google does to promote that it might be antitrust related.

Nothing. It's trivial to sign up and implement recaptcha, I've done it several times. You just get some code that shows a captcha.

You don't have to use Google services. Or Google client. Or Google DNS. Or Google domains. Even with adblocker, and on third-party websites I still get one click captcha. I get that you see a single company taking over a lot of infrastructure, but the captcha is probably not the great example.

Not sure what you're talking about. It's all just standard web technologies. Cookes, localStorage, etc.

Last time I tried to login to namecheap with firefox I got like 5 captcha checks (select all tiles with signs) and ended up with the annoying one that says "click on the tiles until you don't see any more cars", the annoying part with that was that it took AGES until the new images appeared. When I tried the audio thing it said "we are sorry but you computer is sending up automated network requests" or something like that.

When I tried again with chromium it got instantly verified.

Now try the same thing with cookies deleted in both browsers. Or in incognito/private mode.

I guess they assume, if you're actually loading from Chrome, you're probably not a bot? They're probably checking for more than just a simple user agent?

That said, as far as I know (I'll keep an eye on it), I haven't always received an instant check in Chrome when dealing with a captcha.

Decisions, decisions. Is this Vestagers works again?

I'm more interested in seeing how much of her work will actually hold up in court. Better to focus on 10 good cases, than spread yourself thin on 30 and lose 80% of them. I guess she'll be long gone by then. The joys of politics.

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