The European Union is, despite its squabbling and divisive nature a fundamentally technological society. While it might lack the US’ cultural cohesion, in terms of Internet speeds, smartphone and tablet numbers and technological R&D it is quite comparable. So it is quite strange that many of its member states are quite apprehensive towards a lot of internet companies, particularly in regards to privacy.
Google might style itself as a different type of company, driven by its ‘Don’t be evil’ philosophy and community-minded approach to the technology that it’s developing but for people in the EU the search giant has to go a long way to prove itself. The EU’s clashes with Google have been public, loud and increasingly polemical. Some have even gone as far as comparing Google’s problems in the EU with those that forced the company to withdraw from the Chinese market. Almost a month ago the European Parliament gave Google an ‘ultimatum’ to change its search and ad practices or face large fines for diverting website traffic towards advertised sites. Yes, Google might be fined for optimising its search, which is ironic considering the company’s frowning upon search agencies who try to achieve the same results. While the search giant dodged the bullet in the US it looks like it might have to modify its policy in the EU member states.
And yet the company isn’t going down without a fight. Last year Google launched an internet campaign urging users to ‘defend their net’ after copyright law changes in Germany that meant the company would have to pay publishers for news snippets displayed in search results came into effect. Similar threats came on the French front and in Brazil 90% of the newspaper publishers withdrew their content from Google indexing. The copyright aspect is however just a side-line in the continuous battle over privacy rights between governments and major players like Google and Facebook.
There is however a nationalistic aspect to the whole debate with European countries and, in some cases, citizens seeing Google as a company that turns a profit out of working in Europe but contributes little if anything to budgets and web infrastructure. And while Google has a well-known community reinvestment side that often goes hand-in-hand with its business side (the free Wi-Fi project in New York and Google Fiber amongst them) little of that has been showcased in Europe. There are talks in France for instance for securing Google investments in Internet infrastructure but so far they have yielded n results.
Google is a massive global conglomerate nowadays with a clear agenda for free and fair internet for everyone so it is unlikely that it will take any drastic action but challenges like this from countries dedicated to freedom of speech and personal information privacy will likely have interesting effects on the company’s long term policies. For now, Google controls over 90% of the search market share in Europe so European Parliament sanctions or not, it is here to stay.
Author Bio: Andy G. Roberts is a US media marketing expat working for a small marketing firm in Germany. He’s has worked on two continents for best digital agencies, in four countries.