If you haven’t heard, yesterday, Google was fined $2.7 billion by the European Union. While many expected a fine of some sort, the amount is far larger than anyone would have predicted. I believe this is just the beginning of the actions that will be taken against tech giants and their anti-competitive, monopolistic behavior around the world. I foresee pending investigations and possibly action taken against Apple, Facebook, and Amazon with a possibility of the same for Verizon and AT&T as those companies grow beyond monopolizing phone calls in their areas to monopolizing other things.
These are my thoughts on what this decision might lead to down the road. Please note I’m not a regulator, a regulatory expert, or a lawyer.
1. This has been a long, long, long time coming. – Google hasn’t been the neutral third party simply ranking web content with an algorithm that they like to portray themselves as in at least a decade. In 2006 when they purchased YouTube and launched Google Checkout it was a clear sign they wanted to dominate the web nice and slowly. Their own current CEO even referenced that at last years Google I/O event.
2. It is probably just the beginning of regulatory fines / actions against them. – According to Search Engine Land there are at least 2 more cases pending against Google, but the mounting evidence points to more more unfair treatment which will likely bring future cases. For example on Android Google installs 3 web browsers that can’t be uninstalled or turned off, the default browser (Chrome based) and Chrome’s mobile browser, and the Google app itself is also a web browser. Android doesn’t make it easy on setup to change your default browser to another one like FireFox Mobile, Opera Mini, Ghostery, InBrowser, MaxThon, Dolphin, Armorfly, Brave, or the AdBlock browser and even if you did simply using Google’s app doesn’t easily open content in the browser of your choice. After all the fighting we went through to get a choice in our browser via the Windows OS which lead to Chrome, it’s unthinkable that for nearly a decade governments have allowed consumers to be railroaded into using a set browser without control.
3. Expect more scrutiny of Apple, Facebook, Bing, and Amazon’s activities. Apple over iTunes/App Store, Facebook over treatment of YouTube links, Microsoft’s Bing for looking at Google and going “SAME”, Amazon for retail issues. – Apple’s iTunes and App Store (and Google Play) are the definition of anticompetive. While the Google Play store is easier to get an app listed in than Apple’s, it’s a bit strange that device manufacturer forces consumers to use only their approved software. For the young folks out there reading this in the heyday of PC’s (and Macs) we used to go to any electronics / book / retail / computer / or office store and buy whatever software we wanted. Imagine if Microsoft had forced all software to be purchased through Best Buy for a PC or it wouldn’t install or worse yet to be approved by Microsoft to be able to be installed. Also consider how Facebook treats YouTube links and how Amazon might use seller data to compete with their own sellers or other things that could be considered anti-competitive since they are both a retailer and a marketplace for retailers.
4. I am hopeful the FTC imposes fines / takes meaningful action as well. – Hey USA, why are we so ok with tech giants running our lives and killing off small business competition?
5. This can only be a good thing for organic traffic. – If government pressure mounts on Google, which recently shoved 4 ads at the top of desktop organic and started selling ads in the local pack, then there’s a good chance we’ll see Google either slow down their advertising domination push or possibly even a reversal of some of it simply to try and ease the pressure against them. This might provide an overall organic bump for a year or so while things cool off.
6. I expect the Android issue to resemble the Internet Explorer case. – Google will argue that consumers expect their browser to be bundled with their smartphone / IoT OS and that the two are inextricably linked. Based on past case history there’s a low chance that Google would have a court decision made and instead would likely pursue a settlement with the Department of Justice. If that happens my hope is that the settlement will decide that during setup a different browser can be loaded from the Google Play Store or that the default browser be selected this way when a new user activates an Android phone. Most likely though we’ll get a slap on the wrist for Google with some internal changes to sort of, kind or promote other browsers in an attempt to avoid further regulation.
7. This might slow down some of future massive consolidation (i.e. Verzion + AOL + Yahoo, Comcast + NBC + Universal Studios + DreamWorks, and AT&T + Time Warner) but I dont expect it to stop the AT&T + Time Warner buyout). – The future seems to be ISP + Giant Website and/or Giant Content Creator. Google has Google Fi, Google Fiber, Google.com, and YouTube, Verizon has Verizon Wireless, FiOS, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, AOL, Yahoo!, and Tumblr; AT&T has (or will soon have) U-verse, HBO, CNN, Turner Networks, and Warner Brothers Studios; and Comcast has Xfinity internet, Xfinity TV, Universal Studios, DreamWorks, The Weather Channel, and a lot of sports media outlets.
8. VC’s will probably respond negatively as this will slow down the buyout exits they love so much (someone more in-tune chime in). – Government regulation costs money and reduces possible business strategys in an industry meaning a lower chance of exiting a company via buyout (what seems to be the goal of many tech startups these days) that could mean less money flowing into companies that would be targets for the tech giants that are regulatory magnets.
9. Anticipate questions about Google’s usage of Google Analytics data and Schema.org in building out their own vertical search engines. (i.e. the new job engine and hotel search). – I’ve been telling vertical search providers since 2013 to be wary of Google bearing gifts. If Google thinks they can snag the same data, they will, and then they will use their market dominance to try and crush those vertical sites. If it turns out that Google Analytics operates as a trojan horse to help Google’s business development teams decide what to focus on, that could be considered anti-competitive.
10. Anticipate more aggressive moves by Alphabet to diversify their revenue streams very soon. – If the jig is up on Google.com being manipulated to push higher revenues for Google, like those full size YouTube videos showing up at the top of search results shoving everything else out of view or the constant encroachment of Adwords ads pushing content down the page, then Alphabet will need one of their other business divisions to be profitable with great margins and in the very near future to keep investors happy.
11. The phrases “It’s Google’s engine they can do what they want” and “It’s Google’s world we just live in it” should both now be retired since it was a manual spam action that lead to the record fine.
12. MAYBE, just MAYBE this will lead us to more Open Standards for new technology such as IoT, Voice Assistants / A.I. Assistants, Chat bots, Smart Home Appliances, and Progressive Web Apps. – This is more likely wishful thinking though since consumers quit demanding this nearly a decade ago. I would love to see a tech industry wide push for Open Standards on emerging technology to aid competition.
13. Personally I think Alphabet (the parent company of Google) should spin YouTube, Android, and Chrome into their own companies under the umbrella to provide more friction between them or at least the appearance of more friction. – This might also give smaller teams inside of Alphabet the ability to be more agile and creative driving revenues higher.