Exclusionary Effects in Google: Are They Relevant at All for the Outcome of the Case?
[Thanks to Alfonso and Nicolas for allowing me to post yet more thoughts on the Google investigation]
We have now entered the fourth year of the investigation into Google’s practices (and this without even a statement of objections being issued). The latest statements by the Commissioner suggest that the final decision will most probably not be issued any time soon. Because the proceedings are taking (objectively speaking) so long, one is tempted to think that, were Google’s practices truly exclusionary, negative effects in the marketplace would have already materialised. Arguably, the time elapsed since the opening of the investigation is long enough to establish whether the initial concerns were justified.
As a complete outsider, I do not have the means to know whether action by the Commission is based on figures suggesting the likely exclusion of rival services. But I know that I make compulsive use of Amazon (the immense success of which is no secret to anyone), that I regularly check reviews on Tripadvisor (which seems to be a healthy business with a growing number of unique visitors) and that, every now and then, I use Expedia (which is facing increased competition, including from Tripadvisor). As everybody else, I read newspapers mostly online, and I notice that the above and other search-related services advertise their sites prominently through the media. And I also know that some firms are alive enough to claim before the Commission that the concessions offered by Google are insufficient.
If it were really based on the exclusionary effects of Google’s practices on competing services (or if the Guidance were to be taken as the expression of a serious long-term commitment), the likelihood of these effects would be the central aspect of the investigation. However, I am again – I cannot help it – under the impression that the outcome of the case depends on other factors. As is true of the legal framework (Where’s the Law?) under which they are (if at all) being assessed, the likely effects of the alleged practices seem plain irrelevant in this regard. The only question that seems to matter –and this is a real pity, given the exciting and novel issues raised – is whether the commitments offered by Google are acceptable for the Commission.
Happy 2014 everyone!