The idea of tech giants like Google being regulated like utilities isn’t a new one, but the topic is back in the public conversation this week, as Germany is considering treating Google and others this way.
Should Google be regulated like a utility? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Germany’s Federal Cartel Office has reportedly drafted a “secret” 30-page document outlining, among other things, how it would treat Google and other large tech companies – specifically American tech companies – like utilities. This is aimed at limiting how much power they have.
The Sunday Times reports:
Under one of the proposals, it could be treated as a utility, such as an energy or water provider, with the government strictly regulating charges for advertising on its search engine.
The secret briefing document underlines the growing fears across European capitals over the dominant position that Google and its US competitors have established on the Continent.
According to the report, the document would impact Google if Berlin judged that it has indeed become too influential. Based various government run-ins the company has had in Germany and the broader EU, that doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.
The fun never stops for Google in Europe, where questions remain about whether its proposal in a years-long antitrust investigation will hold up (Yelp recently came forward as a new complainant). Meanwhile, the company is also dealing with the mess that is the “right to be forgotten” in the EU.
Let’s not forget that Germany is also where Google had to worry about ancillary copyright law, where it faced having to pay to license content from publishers in order to display headlines and snippets of text in search results. Ultimately, Google avoided having to pay German publishers by making Google News opt-in.
TechCrunch got this statement from the office on the matter:
“In the last weeks, Federal Minister Gabriel has repeatedly pointed out the changes by living in an increasingly digitalized world,” a spokesperson says. “The Minister has made clear that the technological changes not only affect the commercial field but more and more the private living conditions of citizens. Hence, the government and its institution ought to think about how to deal with such chances. This includes many aspects such as market power, regulation, data protection. It is the question of a new framework for the digital age.
“With respect to competition law, the respective authorities are in charge (Federal Cartel Office, Regional Cartel Offices, EU Commission). The competition control deals with potential risks resulting from a market dominating position. The Federal Ministry of Economics reviews whether a further regulation exceeding current competition law is necessary in case such risks cannot sufficiently be addressed by competition law.”
Last year, Amazon had to deal with the Cartel Office, which dropped an investigation into its pricing after it agreed to stop prohibiting third-party sellers from offering products for lower prices on competing sites. It may have dropped the investigation, but it had a direct, significant impact on Amazon’s business.
Google may be in for an even bigger disruption. Note that this is only one proposal from the long, secret document, and it makes you wonder what else is in it. The Cartel Office is not speaking specifically about the contents about the document, even now that word is out about it.
Google’s competitors have been calling on regulators to treat the search giant like a utility for some time. Last year, for example, complainants in the antitrust case met in Brussels, and called upon the EU to regulate Google like a telecommunications or electric company.
Does Google need to be further regulated? Tell us what you think.
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