from that’s-the-real-threat department
Predictably after a leak a few days earlier, the European Parliament last week “voted” its proposal to back Google’s breakup. And yet, it might not be as important as a second part of the EU vote, regarding a bizarre and absurd requirement for “unbiased” search results. As noted earlier, Google’s breakup proposal is both completely toothless and a bit stupid. On the toothless level, not only can the European Parliament do nothing about it, but if the European Commission wanted to break up Google, it would have to go through a long and complex process, which would probably fail. As Vox notes:
For Google to be effectively broken up, the European Commission would first have to sue Google for breaching European competition laws. The EC would then have to win the case and convince the courts that a breach was the appropriate remedy.
“I can’t believe this would happen” [antitrust expert Mark] Patterson told me on Monday. “I don’t think there have been instances where someone has been separated for years.”
Patterson says ‘there has never been compelling evidence’ showing that Google abused its dominant position in the search or advertising markets to harm competitors
But still, here is what the European Parliament approved [pdf] by 384 votes to 174:
notes that the online search market is of particular importance for ensuring conditions of competition within the digital single market, given the potential development of search engines into gatekeepers and their ability to market the secondary exploitation of the information obtained; calls on the Commission, therefore, to apply EU competition rules with determination, based on input from all relevant stakeholders and taking into account the whole structure of the digital single market in order to ensuring solutions that genuinely benefit consumers, internet users and online businesses; further calls on the Commission to consider proposals to decouple search engines from other commercial services as a potential long-term means of achieving the above objectives;
As to why it is dumbthe Economist has a pretty good explanation:
Google is therefore clearly dominant; but if he abuses this dominant position, that’s another matter. It is accused of favoring its own services in search results, making it difficult for advertisers to manage campaigns across multiple online platforms, and presenting answers directly on some search pages rather than referring users to others. Web sites. But its behavior is not of the same class as Microsoft’s systematic campaign against the Netscape browser in the late 1990s: there are no e-mails talking about “cutting”? competitors? ?air intake?. Additionally, some of the features that hurt Google’s competitors benefit its consumers. Giving people flight details, dictionary definitions or a map right away saves them time. And while advertisers often pay high rates for clicks, users get Google’s service for nothing, rather than plumbers and florists paying to be listed in the yellow pages that are given free to readers, and mail boxes. night charge high entry prices to men but let women in. free.
Furthermore, The Economist points out that not only does this decision appear to be anti-consumer, but it is also blatantly protectionist for companies that do not want to innovate:
Instead of attacking successful American companies, European leaders should ask themselves why their continent hasn’t produced a Google or a Facebook. Opening up the EU digital services market would do more to create one than to protect local incumbents.
But in the proposal, a few lines down, there was something that might be even more concerning and more ridiculous, even if it generated fewer (in fact, almost none) headlines. And it is that, beyond “breaking” search engines, the resolution also included this bit of nonsense, saying that search engines must be “unbiased”:
Emphasizes that when operating search engines for users, the search process and results must be unbiased in order to keep Internet searches non-discriminatory, to ensure more competition and choice for users and consumers and to maintain the diversity of sources of information; notes, therefore, that indexing, evaluation, presentation and ranking by search engines must be impartial and transparent; calls on the Commission to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interconnected services by search engine operators;
Corn What does it mean? The search is inherently biased. This is the point of research. You want the best results for what you’re looking for, and the search engine’s job is to rank results based on what it thinks is best. An “unbiased” search engine is not a search engine at all. It just returns random things.
In fact, it is a way for the EU to try to insert itself into the capacity of Edit Search results. They try to insert themselves into the algorithm to determine which search results this think should be on top, rather than whatever the algorithms find. This is very worrying, partly because it shows how little the European politicians who voted for this understand. Years ago, James Grimmelmann (not a friend of Google – as he actively fought against Google on a number of issues), explained why this concept (sometimes called “search neutrality”) it makes absolutely no sense, and in effect establishes a set of contradictory requirements where “ends and means do not match”. He concludes that the very idea of unbiased research is “incoherent”. In fact, he notes that an attempt at “unbiased research” almost certainly leads not only to poorer results for users, but to a more likely situation in which users are pushed to the kinds of sites that decision makers think they are. ‘they’re going to downgrade.
Require search engines to behave? in a neutral way? will not produce the desired objective of neutral search results. The Web is a place where site owners compete fiercely, sometimes viciously, for viewers and users to turn to intermediaries to defend them against the sometimes abusive tactics of information providers. Removing the search engine from the equation leaves users vulnerable to precisely the kinds of manipulation that search neutrality is designed to protect them from. Whether it ranks sites by popularity, personalization, or even the idiosyncratic whims of their operator, a search engine offers an alternative to the Hobbesian world of the unmediated Internet, in which the richest voices are the strongest and most authoritative on any subject is the spammer with the fastest server. Research neutrality is cynical about the internet, but maybe not cynical enough.
Meanwhile, the Pirate Party’s only member of the European Parliament, Julia Reda, has a bit more detail on how this bogus claim of “unbiased research” is really just an attempt to support publishers who have failed to innovate via so-called “ancillary rights”, such as the attempt to force Google to pay newspaper publishers to send them traffic. As Reda notes:
Here, algorithms and search results are required to be unbiased in order for Internet searches to remain “non-discriminatory”. and to “secure competition and freedom of choice for users and consumers”. Therefore, search engine indexing, weighting, display and ranking must be unbiased and transparent.
This formulation is explosive. I am led to suspect that his objective is to prepare a Europe incidental copyright for press publishers. The attempt to cross-fund major publishers through Google recently backfired dramatically in Germany. Is this resolution an attempt to create the missing piece of the puzzle in Germany?
In October, G?nther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, provoked a debate on an ancillary European copyright law for press publishers even before taking office. Not a month later, the next move is made in that direction? this time in parliament.
As you may recall, when German publishers demanded payments for traffic, Google removed their snippets and the publishers claimed it was “blackmail”. As Reda notes, the resolution’s entire “neutrality” or “impartial” language suggests a blueprint in which Google would be strength to (1) continue to deliver the snippets and traffic, and then, later, (2) pay publishers for sending them the traffic. In short, the idea is to force Google to “infringe” the (manufactured) rights of publishers in order to give them a way to force Google to give them money.
Reda, accompanied by Michel Reimon, proposed amendments that would block this possible interpretation of the resolution… and had these amendments rejected.
It is clear that Europe, for some reason, has decided to go to war against American Internet companies, with Google being the main target. As we noted last week, the reasons are unclear other than that Google is big and American. It is perfectly reasonable to be concerning about potential abuse, and to watch vigilantly to make sure no abuse occurs, but that’s not what’s happening here. It seems that these measures are simply designed to punish not only Google, but the very user of the service in Europepressuring the company to deliver a lesser quality product… just to benefit a few companies and industries that have failed to innovate.
It is difficult to see how such an effort could benefit European citizens.
Filed Under: antitrust, eu, eu commission, eu parliament, julia reda, research neutrality, impartial research