Google’s struggles in Europe continue. However the company apparently has won something of a reprieve in its battle against the emerging “the right to be forgotten,” which Google largely regards as censorship. But on the antitrust front, Google faces stepped up criticism of its settlement proposals from critics and opponents.
On Monday, an advisory (non-binding) opinion from Niilo Jaeaeskinen of the EU Court of Justice found that Google cannot (or should not) be compelled to de-index material that was originally legally posted on third-party publisher sites.
According to an article appearing in Bloomberg, the Court of Justice advisory opinion asserts that Google isn’t “the controller” of data from other websites. Jaeaeskinen added that “a national data protection authority cannot require an Internet search engine service provider to withdraw information from its index.” This is a preliminary victory for Google.
While there is no formal “right to be forgotten” in Europe — it’s a proposal being considered by data protection authorities — the EU Court of Justice opinion argues against individuals and third parties being able to exert control over content in Google’s index, which could amount to censorship in a large number of cases (e.g., political figures or executives who don’t like negative articles about their reputations or performance).
While the First Amendment in the US weighs heavily in favor of the open information, in Europe there’s much more attention to individual privacy rights and much more of a conflict between privacy and speech.
It’s very likely that the EU Court of Justice will formally adopt the advisory opinion of Jaeaeskinen. It has a track record of following these opinions, apparently.
Google hasn’t thus far been quite as lucky in gaining acceptance of its European antitrust settlement proposals. The period for “market testing” (formal comments from competitors and others) has now passed. Opponents have roundly criticized the proposals as not enough or meaningless.
Along those lines, the anti-Google lobbying organization FairSearch.org issued the following statement yesterday:
Google’s proposed solution would simply allow Google to continue prominently to display its own related services in the prime real estate of the page. Links to competing sites would be included, but in a manner that is designed to dissuade users from clicking on them. Moreover, the sites of some of Google’s main competitors – some of the most recognised brand names – are explicitly excluded from the proposal. Those competitors that do qualify for inclusion are almost entirely dependent on Google’s discretion and in some cases need to pay in order to be featured. Google’s proposal would turn a competition abuse into an additional revenue stream for Google. Far from solving the Commission’s competition concerns this proposal will raise competitors’ costs, limit choice and cement Google’s anti-competitive behaviour. Consumers deserve better.
The criticism takes aim specifically at the “rival links” proposal, which is the heart of how Google (and the EC) had proposed to resolve the concern and criticism over the so-called “search bias” question — rivals contend that Google can unfairly advantage its specialized properties (e.g., Local, Travel, Shopping) by placing them in prominent positions in search results.
The FairSearch statement is just the latest criticism of Google’s settlement proposals, which were negotiated with the European Commission. By contrast the company maintains its proposals are “meaningful and comprehensive”:
Our proposals are meaningful and comprehensive, providing additional choice and information while also leaving room for future innovation. As we’ve always said, we build Google for users, not websites. And we don’t want to hamper the very innovations that people like best about Google’s services. That’s why we focused on addressing the Commission’s specific concerns, and we think we did a pretty good job.