Question: How many search queries does Google process per second?
Answer: Over 40,000. How do I know that? I looked it up on Google.
I am sure you are a Google user too, contributing to that astonishing statistic. The online oracle has become the ultimate source of information for millions of internet surfers. It’s safe to say we’ve been pretty happy with having the know-it-all at our disposal.
So, why did a group of European online publishers get so mad at Google that they convinced the European Commission to open an antitrust investigation into Google’s practices? The investigation started in November 2010 and is still ongoing.
Google’s alleged misconduct
Google stands accused of the following “cyber crimes”:
- Lowering the ranking of competing services in its search results, e.g., price comparison sites.
- Promoting its own services, e.g., YouTube, Google Maps and Google Shopping.
- Using other publishers’ content in its results without paying for access to it.
- Preventing third-party publishers and advertisers from advertising Google’s search competitors.
The findings so far
While the European Commission is investigating the alleged abuse of Google’s dominant position in online search, some individual EU countries looked into it on their own.
Germany found no evidence of Google’s misbehaviour.
Spain, on the other hand, passed a law requiring Google to pay publishers a fee for linking to their content.
Four years later, Google is still working with the European Commission to address the raised concerns. Recently, the search giant put forth the third set of commitments to comply with the EU’s competition policy.
And that’s what pushed a coalition of EU news publishing associations to unleash their anti-Google campaign in September 2014.
Arguing Google’s unfair online dominance, the infuriated group took out print ads in newspapers across Europe against Google to rally public support for their cause.
Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, responding to the accusations of Google’s abuse of its dominance in search, asserted:
- Google is not the gateway to the Internet as the publishers suggest.Users often go straight to the sites or apps they are interested in. That’s why newspapers like Bild, Le Monde and the Financial Times, for example, get less than 15% of their traffic from Google. The majority of the traffic is direct.For the same reason, Amazon and Expedia get most of their traffic direct, not through Google.
- Google is not promoting its products to benefit Google. It is using its products like YouTube, Google Maps, etc., to benefit the user.If you are searching for the closest pharmacy, for example, you would get a map, Google map that is, with directions to get you there.
- Google is not downgrading specialised search engines to benefit itself. It does so to help the user get the best results.For example, if you are searching for shoes, you will see websites that offer shoes, not links to those specialised engines where you need to re-enter your search query.
We know what the EU’s publishers think of Google’s conduct (bad Google).
We know what Google thinks of its own conduct (good Google).
Do we know where the European Commission stands on the issue today? We have a clue.
Schmidt quoted European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia as saying:
“Imposing strict equal treatment … could mean returning to the old world of Google displaying only ten undifferentiated search results – the so-called ten blue links. This would deprive European users of the search innovations that Google has introduced.”
While the battle between the web Goliath and a group of smaller giants ensues, we are forced to consider the implications of Google’s omnipresence in our online lives.
Where do you stand? Do you want the return of the ten undifferentiated blue links? Or do you want personalised answers, reducing your search time to milliseconds even if content publishers feel they get the short end of the stick?
As the end user, you are the ultimate judge of Google’s flagship product. If it continues to improve YOUR search experience, as Google says it does, you might remain a happy customer for years to come.