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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Google proposes settlements to the European Commission but a second complaint reaches the Commission

In the same time with the settlements proposed by Google - which details are not currently available so far but they could be similar to the proposals submitted to the Federal Trade Commission - a fresh complaint arrives on the desks of the DG Competition. This complaint seems to have been lodged by ICOMP (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace), which has as a prominent member the same Microsoft Corporation. 
Yesterday, ICOMP posted an interesting statement on its website (, stating that the fundamental problem of Google is what ICOMP calls a ”conflict of interest”, an expression which is repeated constantly - not less than 5 times throughout the 6 paragraphs document (repetitio est mater studiorum - repetition is the mother of learning - as the romans used to say)! 
This time the adversaries of Google try to articulate a theory of consumer harm - ”the personal data they surrender, the lack of choice they are forced to accept and ultimately the dearth of innovation which arises from an uncompetitive marketplace”.  The theory remains unconvincing - Facebook is using personal user’s data to, at least, the same extent and such use cannot be considered, anyway, per se harmful, from a competition point of view.  The alleged lack of choice is simply not true (what choice - of search engines ?) and the dearth of innovation is rather a distant prospect than a reality or an imminent threat. 
What I want to say, as I did in other occasions, is that Google might distort competition but it looks as it is doing this in such a pervasive way that nobody is able to point to clear negative effects of the market, at least as a way of example !
Thus, the new complaint seems to be made with the intention to maintain the pressure on the European Commission, in its review of the Google settlements. The focus on the conflict of interest might be an indication that the solution envisaged by the adversaries of Google would be to force it to be neutral, which would entail a separation of the Internet giant, returning Google at its basic and primary role of search engine.   
The problem with so many complaints is that, in the absence of solid arguments and evaluations of the harmful effects, they will, eventually, fire back at the plaintiffs (if rejected, they will look like being defeated) and they will induce a (perhaps, false) sentiment that nothing could be wrong with Google.  And, in fact, Google's weight might eventually become too much for a healthy competition...