Google’s abuse of dominant position and the illusion of consumer power

Google is once again on a collision course with content producers, this time the news publishers. Google’s new Newsstand app could be a way for the search giant to find a mutual interest with the media industry, both parties wanting to maximise sales. But at the same time the European Publishers Council criticises Google for abusing its dominant position in terms of third party content. EPC Executive Director Angela Mills Wade points to the absurdity that Google will promote its own services over the competition in its search results, leaving media companies to buy ads from their competitor as the only way out.

That is doubly ironic, as ad-revenue already shifted from content media to search media when Google started posting snippets of news stories (without prior consent from the content owners, as Mills Wade also points out). Google’s standard answer to such criticism is “fine, don’t use our service”. From media producer perspective, that is a useless answer, Google’s dominant position on search means hardly anyone can afford to opt-out. And for the consumers, the users, the consumer power is in reality very restricted. Sure, there are other search engines, but is the world’s most visited website so the individual user’s influence is microscopic.

Should Google be held to a higher standard just because it’s successful? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Is that not punishing Google for its success? No, it’s perfectly normal in competition regulation. In fact, regular news media, the same businesses that Google competes with for content, audience and adverts, follow strict policies of press ethics (details vary between countries). One of the fundamental is to never let the advertising or business interests interfere with the editorial content. Google would be well-advised to apply that principle to its own services. That would not be evil at all. Not one bit.


Full disclosure: European Publishers Council is one of Netopia’s supporters