As you may well have seen the EU is fining Google £2.1bn for so called “anti-competitive practices”. Basically, the EU is claiming that Google is abusing its dominance and unfairly promoting its own shopping comparison service over others.
I’m against this fine but I do somewhat agree with the basis upon which the argument has been made.
What’s the problem?
When you search for a product on Google it will display a “Shop for (item name) on Google” section at the top of the results as you can see here:
Now, if, like me you’re not actually interested in any of the results it shows you can click on the “Shop for hard drive on Google” to get more results. Both of these lists contain sponsored items which appear to be a large part of the problem.
The EU believes that these (what are essentially ads) are harming both companies and the end users by unfairly promoting Google’s services and the companies which advertise with them - ultimately “distorting the market”.
Google’s argument is that advertisers want people to find their products and users want to find these products. They also say that based on their data users don’t want to search for their products to be taken to a comparison site only to have to search for the product again. So, Google are saying it’s essentially in everyone’s interest to have these results.
What do I think about this?
It’s a rather interesting situation, I (as I presume most people do) would prefer if a handful of giant companies didn’t control nearly everything. However, the fact is, these companies have grown so large because they can research and do things right and to them resources aren’t really a problem.
I have a firm belief in using technology that quickly does what I want it to do, does it well and does nothing more. I don’t want pop ups, I don’t want unnecessary rubbish clogging up my computers. The same goes for websites, I’m not going to go on a “shopping comparison site” to look for something, I’m almost always going straight to Amazon or eBay.
I personally rarely use the “shopping” part of Google but when I do it is useful. It effectively is one central place for all the items across many, many websites. When I’m looking for a part for a 20-year-old laptop it can prove quite useful. Alternatively, it’s a great way to find the cheapest seller when the product is the same across them all (for instance, multiple people selling a particular server or laptop).
At the end of the day, Google is a company and we are essentially their customers. They need to make money and will innovate to do so.
To summarise, although it’d be nice to have smaller, independent companies promoted on Google I don’t feel they can generally provide as good a service. There’s also the fact that I wouldn’t use them anyway, I’d still go to Amazon or eBay or very occasionally use the Google results for both shopping and my search. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome of “the EU vs Google” and would love to hear what you think about it.