Last week, while we Americans were “unbundling” the various parts of our turkeys, the European Parliament was talking about unbundling Google’s various features:
Members of the European parliament voted overwhelmingly on a measure aimed at keeping companies, such as Google, from dominating the search engine market.
The motion “calls on the [European] Commission to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services as one potential long-term solution” to ensure fair competition.
While the vote was largely symbolic, its outcome could put EU anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager under pressure to pursue complaints against Google, which critics say squeezes out its competitors using unfair advantages.
The Economist weighed in with a bit of criticism:
The European Parliament’s Googlephobia looks a mask for two concerns, one worthier than the other. The lamentable one, which American politicians pointed out this week, is a desire to protect European companies. Among the loudest voices lobbying against Google are Axel Springer and Hubert Burda Media, two German media giants. Instead of attacking successful American companies, Europe’s leaders should ask themselves why their continent has not produced a Google or a Facebook. Opening up the EU’s digital services market would do more to create one than protecting local incumbents.
The good reason for worrying about the internet giants is privacy. It is right to limit the ability of Google and Facebook to use personal data: their services should, for instance, come with default settings guarding privacy, so companies gathering personal information have to ask consumers to opt in. Europe’s politicians have shown more interest in this than American ones. But to address these concerns, they should regulate companies’ behaviour, not their market power. Some clearer thinking by European politicians would benefit the continent’s citizens.
Building on these points, I’d go even further. It seems to me there is pretty clear demand for a privacy-focused internet company. But I don’t see why governments need to get involved here. Instead, companies – European ones, and others, too – just need to recognize this demand, and jump into the market with some competing products. There are fewer barriers to entry in this market than most other markets; someone just needs to be willing to take a risk.