The news this week that the European Commission is slamming Google with antitrust and anticompetitive practice allegations pushes forward the conversation about — not just search dominance, but dominance in the technology world in general.
Over the past few years, the companies in tech that have arisen to juggernaut status have consistently come under fire for what looks like their monopolistic practices. Microsoft faced lawsuits over its browser Internet Explorer’s dominance; Apple similarly dealt with legal debacles for Safari’s default use on Mac computers and iPhones. Various consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. have taken Amazon to task (and failed) for its e-retail dominance. And in Europe, the legal probes have been even more aggressive. Google has consistently faced antitrust allegations for years for its search engine’s market share on the continent, among other accusations. And this time, the European Commission claims that Google is abusing its search dominance by pushing its own shopping service onto consumers. The Wall Street Journal quotes European antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on the subject:
It is important to realize that the situation is different here and in Europe. In Europe you’ll find that Google has about, or more, than 90% of general Internet search. It’s a dominant position… [Google] is a successful company because they have good products. But the compliments, they stop when you get the suspicion that there may be an abuse of this very strong and dominant position.
In March, the European Commission announced that it will be performing a year-long investigation into companies including Netflix and Amazon for their potential anticompetitive practices as well. The onslaught of legal troubles for tech giants doesn’t seem to be dwindling any time soon.
But all of these issues with allegedly anticompetitive tech companies — most of which hail from the U.S. — bring to mind the issue of their role in the proliferation of the internet. Some of these major companies are the ones with projects that aim to establish internet connections to the billions of people without it. Of course, it behooves companies like Facebook and Google to onboard more internet users, but where lies the line of anticompetitive business versus establishing the right to internet connectivity?
This point sinks deeper in the case of some groups trying to onboard more internet users and having to teach them how to use things like search engines — Google, of course, as the default. Tech in Asia reported this week on a project dubbed ClubInternet, founded by Hassan Baig, which works to make modern internet use more comprehensible to new users. In his case, he realized that it’s one thing to get the internet to users without it, but it’s another to enable them to understand how to use the internet. Baig created an internet browser in the form of a tool that guides users on how to sign up for and use basic internet services such as search engines, social networks, and instant messaging. Google is one of the first places new internet users go, which means they could come to associate the internet itself with Google, but whose fault is that? And is it damaging or anticompetitive when the more important point is that another person now has access to the web? These questions will naturally keep coming forward as tech giants like Google work to onboard the next billion to the internet, and especially while they face hefty legal battles in places with established internet saturation.