A Closer Look At EU Parliament's Vote To Break Up Google NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with GigaOM senior writer, David Meyer, about the European Union's complicated relationship with Google and efforts to break it up.

A Closer Look At EU Parliament's Vote To Break Up Google

A Closer Look At EU Parliament's Vote To Break Up Google

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NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with GigaOM senior writer, David Meyer, about the European Union's complicated relationship with Google and efforts to break it up.


If you think Americans google a lot, try Europe. Their Google controls more than 90 percent of the online search market. In the U.S., it's closer to two-thirds. This week, Europe's Parliament voted to break up Google. That vote is not binding, but it speaks to Europe's approach more generally to big tech companies. It's a very different attitude from here in the U.S. Joining us to discuss these differences is David Meyer, a senior writer for the website GigaOM. He joins us from Berlin. Welcome to the program.

DAVID MEYER: Hi, pleased to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Explain exactly what the European Parliament did this week.

MEYER: What the European Parliament did was to ask the European Commission, which is conducting a very long-running anti-trust case looking into Google's practices, to consider a breakup of Google as an option. This is a nuclear option. It's never actually happened before. The European Commission does have the power to split companies up, but it's never actually done that before. And the European Parliament has never actually taken the step of asking for that. So it's sort of a nuclear option. I don't think it's likely to happen, but it is now on the table.

SHAPIRO: Well, according to the European Parliament, what exactly has Google done wrong?

MEYER: Well, it has been established through this long - I mean, this case has been going on for four years - and it has been established that Google has been abusing its dominant position in the search market. It's been doing various things which have been more or less resolved. And the solution there has been quite simple. It's been to say stop doing that, and Google's gone OK. And they've been working out the fine details.

The deeper issue is that of Google promoting its own services in its search results so that those get shoved to the top of page one, and rivals who are trying to set up their own perhaps search services, they're getting shunted down to the bottom of the page there or maybe even onto page two. And let's face it, nobody ever clicks through to page two, and that's the problem.

And there's been a long running back and forth between Google and the European Commission trying to figure out the best way to give other competitors greater prominence in the results.

SHAPIRO: And is Google only engaging in these practices in Europe which is why the U.S. hasn't taken issue with it? Or is Google doing the same thing in both places but Europe minds and the U.S. doesn't?

MEYER: Google is absolutely doing that in the U.S. as well. But in the U.S. you've got your First Amendment. And basically, search results have been classified as speech. A lot of people think that Google search results are neutral - that they are just showing what is most relevant to the user. In many cases, that's simply not true. But because of free speech laws in the U.S., nobody can change those practices in that country. In Europe, which does also has free speech laws, but gives them slightly less importance compared to other principles, people can actually take action about this.

SHAPIRO: And how has Google responded to all this activity in Europe?

MEYER: Well, it's been trying to make concessions to the European Commissions, but it keeps finding itself up against the complainants, which have largely been backed by Microsoft - has been a very important player in that. Yelp has piled in. And you've also got the big European press publishers who are also pushing back. So every time Google tries to make concessions, these people go no, that's not good enough. And that has forced the commission to keep extending the case repeatedly?

SHAPIRO: That's David Meyer, senior writer for the website GigaOM, speaking with us from Berlin. Thanks for your time.

MEYER: And thank you.


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