So, was there anything happening last month that didn’t involve Google?
Oh yeah, there is that …
One of the first items was the announcement that “sometime this year,” Google will stop scanning your emails so it can target advertising. Anyone who has observed the ads coming in when they use Gmail has to know that’s what it’s been doing, and a lot of people were unhappy about that, to put it mildly. We know it looks at what we search and targets ads that way, but scanning inside emails always seemed just a little too Big Brother-ish.
And what about the emails coming from friends who used another service? They never clicked the never-read “terms of service” from Google — and, thus, agreed to be scanned.
The fact that Google ignored privacy advocates’ objections to this issue for more than 13 years shows what really motivated the change, which was the objections of corporate customers. Google is pushing an expansion into corporate enterprise with Google Cloud-Internet services that companies pay for.
Corporations do not want their emails scanned, and in fact Google had deliberately stopped doing that for corporate accounts (or so it said). Companies particularly do not like ads popping up on employees’ workstations, which distract them. The expansion of this policy to individual accounts was “to foster consistency,” but it was most likely motivated by sales reports of companies finding the scanning creepy and resisting signing up, despite reassurances that corporate accounts were immune.
Google is still going to serve up lots of ads to individual customers. After all, ad revenue is still its major income source. It will just get its hints from what you search on, or view, via YouTube (yes, it owns that service, too). So, it’s far from private.
If you want to avoid some of that, you can use another search engine, like Bing (just shoot me) or particularly one like DuckDuckGo, which emphasizes that it does not track you. But the phrase “let me Google that” did not come about by chance; we’re all dependent on its quick — and usually correct — results.
Then the EU
The other big story is the record $2.7 billion fine levied by the European Union’s (EU) anti-trust regulators concerning Google’s habit of pushing its own shopping sites up to the top of search results when people go looking for products or services. Google has 90 days to change its ways or face an additional fine of about $12 million per day. Brutal.
The European Competition Commissioner said, “What Google has done is illegal under EU anti-trust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”
The investigation started seven years ago and followed years of complaints from rivals, such as Yelp, that Google used its dominance (roughly 90% of searches are done with Google) to guide users and thus control the markets.
Google, of course, is considering an appeal. What else could it do? Even for rich Google, this is not trivial.
That’s Not All
One of the reasons Google may appeal is to try to head off a potentially bigger disaster in another EU investigation into whether Google’s Android operating system is a monopoly for smartphone systems.
So if Android is open-source, anyone can use or modify it to his liking — including phone makers who want to use it.
Then why is Google being accused of monopolizing the market? Well, again, it is used by 90% of non-Apple phones. Microsoft and others hold miniscule slices of the phone system market. The biggest complaint, however, is how it is bundled. Sure the operating system is free, but manufacturers who want to use it must agree to certain conditions, such as installing Chrome as the default browser.
They must also use Google Search as the default search engine. And Google has offered financial incentives to manufacturers not to install other searches. And manufacturers must agree to Google’s rules to be able to use/bundle other applications, such as the Play Store, Google Maps or Gmail.
Without those apps, especially the Play Store, it is relatively useless. So abide by its rules or be inferior. The EU doesn’t like that.
The Crystal Ball
What probably will happen is that the EU will require Google to release users/installers from these kind of restrictions, allowing them to choose independently. The question is whether that will really change anything. After all, Chrome is an enormously popular browser; I highly recommend it over Microsoft’s offerings for security and speed, particularly the latter.
And Google will make tons of money with ads on YouTube, which is the darling of middle-schoolers everywhere (for hours at a time). In any case, it is interesting to watch the Europeans take on companies that have been, and probably will continue to be, immune from investigations about monopoly accusations here in the U.S.
Someone has to do it.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and data retrieval for small businesses — when not trying to say something besides “Let me Google that.” He can be reached at 410-9880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are available online at http://feldwick.com.