Is Google Competing Unfairly?

The European Commission has had a long history of battling tech giants, particularly those based outside of Europe. Google is the most famous company constantly facing litigation for unfair competition and various other concerns regarding its handling of user data. The EC (in its unfair competition litigations) often accuses Google of engaging in practices that are harmful to consumers and innovators.

My goal right here is not to give a verdict (I don’t feel it’s my place for that.) but rather to expose both arguments for and against the idea that Google may be practicing unfair competition.

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The problem with defining this term is that it is often influenced by regional cultures. What is “unfair” in the legal system of the United States does not necessarily coincide with the ideas and principles behind the legal systems of, say, Ukraine or France.

In general, most modern democratic nations’ definition of unfair competition can be characterized by “a company’s conscious attempt to warp the market it operates in, using various subversive or outright destructive tactics to push their competition aside.” Cornell University has a definition that provides more context into this.

An example of a company competing unfairly would be, for example, a smartphone manufacturer gaining exclusive purchasing rights for raw materials that are an absolute necessity for making smartphones. This would make the company impossible to compete with since you would be unable to access the raw material market.

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Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, has said that Google’s “magnificent innovations don’t give it the right to deny competitors the chance to innovate.” The European Commission’s beef with Google has a lot to do with how it uses its own products. Because of its massive market share in Internet search (Oxford English Dictionary even includes “google” as a verb), the EC feels that Google has a social responsibility to ensure that its platform does not exclude the company’s competition in other areas, such as advertising.

As an example, one of the grievances expressed in the litigation include Google’s in-site search product which anyone can implement on their site to allow visitors to use Google-powered searching to browse one particular site’s contents. Since Google only allows its own advertisements to appear in search results through that product, its presence on websites is crowding out advertising competitors.

While it is easy to portray Google’s growing presence as a threat to fair and just competition, there are many who stand against the accusation that it is competing unfairly. They argue that Google owns these products and can do with them as they wish as long as they are not undercutting the competition through any unethical business practices such as fraud and false advertising.

As for the omnipresent nature of Google, the typical contrary argument says that this is simply because Google is very good at competing. There are, after all, competitors such as Microsoft (Bing) and Yahoo (Yahoo Search). You can even use Google’s own search engine to look them up. In other words, there is nothing preventing users of Google from finding out who its competitors are and then using them. It just so happens that most people prefer the complacency of using Google products.

What do you think? Is Google engaging in something shady or is it a company that (at least in this respect) is clear of any wrongdoing?

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