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Fiona Small, Assistant Editor @ Public Affairs Ireland

BA and MA graduate in Politics, Public Administration and International Relations

European Parliament Resolution to split Google

On November 27th, Members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly backed a measure to split internet search engine services from commercial services. The resolution was supported by a resounding 384 votes to 174 against with 56 MEPs abstaining from voting.

Although internet and search engine provider Google was not directly named in the proposal, this resolution will heavily impact the company; clearly indicating it is the main target of the resolution. Google dominates the internet search market in Europe, controlling over 90 percent of the market and its search engine google.com is the world’s largest.

The vote is seen as largely symbolic as the European Parliament doesn’t have the power to actually force Google to break-up its services. Only the European Commission has the power to power to split up a company but it has never forced a corporation to do so before. However, the European Parliament can pass anti-trust regulations as the next step which will force Google to review how they work and operate in Europe. Alternatively, the EU could impose a large fine; potentially it could be up to even 10% of Google’s worldwide sales. The most likely scenario is that Google will pay the European Commission a settlement offer.

Since 2010, the European Commission has been investigating Google in an anti-trust inquiry. This investigation is in response to rivals alleging that Google’s search engine has been squeezing out competitors in Europe. Rival competitors have complained that Google was favouring its own goods and services in its search engine results.

“Right to be forgotten”

In addition to this measure, EU regulators have issued guidelines to Google for them to apply the “right to be forgotten” rule to all search results. The right to be forgotten arose from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on Google Spain V Gonzalez et al. Google are obliged to comply with the ECJ’s rule.  This ruling stipulates that individuals have the right under certain terms and conditions to apply to search engines asking for them to delete links about themselves.  This means the EU want the application of the “right to be forgotten” to not just be for country specific domains in Europe such as google.de and google.co.uk but the rule should be extended to search results on google.com making the ruling global. This recommendation is to prevent ways of getting around the right to be forgotten law.

Google News in Spain

Google have also announced that they are shutting down and closing their news service in Spain on December 16th in advance of a new intellectual property law taking effect on January 1st. This law would have required Google to compensate Spanish publishers for linking their content or showing snippets of publications on Google News.  Google will instead remove links to Spanish publishers from its international Google News site. Google News does not show adverts or generate any income for Google.

EU competition rules and American internet and technology companies

Furthermore, Germany and France, the EU’s two largest economies, have asked the EU to consider implementing reviewing competition rules to make it easier for the EU to regulate and monitor American internet and technology companies including examining their business practices.  There is growing concern in Europe over the dominance of the American technological and internet companies at the expense of indigenous European firms. There is also unease over American firms’ effect on privacy law in Europe.