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Will the EU Break Up Google?

Europe really, really doesn’t like Google.

At least, that’s the message that has been sent by increasingly strict European Union rules on how search engines can operate, such as this summer’s “Right to Forget” court decision. But such rulings seem like minor speed bumps compared to the EU’s latest proposal: break Google in half.

The decision came late last week in the form of a resolution to split search engines off of their parent companies. The resolution, which passed by an overwhelming 2-to-1 majority, doesn’t call out Google by name—but as the market leader that dominates the European tech scene, it’s understood who the bill is aimed at.

Why Europe and Google Don’t Get Along

Despite the political rancor, Google and Europe actually do get along—at least, consumers/search users in European countries love the American search giant, which is part of the problem. European regulators view Google as a dangerous monopoly, one that’s hurting their own economy.

American media like to say that the EU is anti-Google ever since the Snowden affair, when it was revealed that American tech companies acted (as required by law) as surveillance vehicles for the U.S. government. That’s definitely a major sticking point for Europeans, but the political battery against Google has much deeper roots:

  • Government surveillance aside, Europeans are much less trusting of big data generally. Collecting massive amounts of data on users, even if it’s just to target ads or improve mapping services, is viewed with great suspicion.
  • Google doesn’t just dominate one market in Europe, it dominates two: Google’s Android is far and away the most common mobile OS in the EU.
  • While Google also has market dominance in the U.S., other American companies compete successfully against it. Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo all pose respectable threats to Google either in the realm of search, mobile, or both. Europe has yet to produce major tech firms that can challenge Google on either front.

Of course, when European governmental leaders are calling to break up American companies, it’s important to look at their own motivations. As you might guess, fledgling European tech businesses would enjoy a little extra sunlight if the Google forest were chopped down. And at least one of the European Parliament members who spearheaded the resolution had a clear conflict of interest.

A Resolution on Paper Only

No matter what the motives, this new resolution looks pretty bleak for Google. Or does it? The resolution is non-binding, meaning it’s basically a recommendation from the European Parliament for a second international entity, the European Commission (EC), to consider taking action.

The EC has its own antitrust office, which will take the new resolution into account. But the EC has already tried multiple times to settle the Google issue, and each attempt has failed because of clamoring for even more extreme measures.

We wouldn’t expect this resolution to go nowhere—the EU almost certainly will impose more regulations on Google sooner or later—but don’t expect a Windows/Internet Explorer style court battle anytime soon.