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EU plunders Google

Google worked with others to make software for phones. They did not have to do this, and nobody had to use their software. People just found it useful enough that they agreed to use Google’s software with certain conditions attached that they found agreeable. The EU, under the guise of arbitrary rules limiting voluntary interactions, is going to plunder 5 billion Euros from Google.

A friend on Facebook writes, “No! Fuck off fuck off fuck off! This money will get pissed away and squandered (probably on drink by Jean-Claude Juncker) […] their view seems to be: ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.'” (I think Ronald Reagan would agree with that last part.)

The CEO of Google points out that Android has created more choice, not less.

33 comments to EU plunders Google

  • Sam Duncan

    I don’t like Google. I don’t particularly like Android, although it’s based on the Linux kernel. I certainly don’t like the way Google has made it more and more proprietary over the years. And I’d very much like it to be as simple to install another OS on a phone as it is on a PC. But the EU grabbing another few billion doesn’t do anything to achieve that, and is, as PJ O’Rourke once put it, akin to handing whisky and car keys to teenage boys.

    Google will need to stop forcing manufacturers to preinstall Chrome and Google search in order to offer the Google Play Store on handsets.

    How does this help anyone? I don’t use Google Search or Chrome. Or the Play Store if I can help it. Yes, I’d like to remove them from my phone. Yes, the manufacturer, in collusion with Google, prevents me from doing that easily (although I can “disable” them so that they just sit on the internal storage taking up space). But it’s not the bundling that’s the problem; it’s the difficulty of gaining root access. Which can (rather weakly) be defended as a security measure.

    Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits.

    This is utter nonsense. I repeat: I never use Google Search on my phone. Haven’t for years. It’s not difficult. Install the DuckDuckGo app, from the Play Store if you like (it’s not as if Google has made it hard to find), and Bob’s your uncle. You can even set it to be the default swipe-up-from-the-bottom search app.

    But if you don’t have root, you don’t own the device. And fining Google 5 billion Euromarks doesn’t give anyone root.

  • Stonyground

    Not knowing how such things work, my genuine question is how do they enforce this? If Google say get lost we aren’t paying it, what powers do the EU have to make them?

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Sam, I’m not convinced it’s Google making phones difficult to root. It’s the manufacturer who lock the bootloader. I just looked up the rooting instructions for Google’s own phone, the Pixel 2, and it seems straightforward enough. You can install AOSP or some other version of Android with or without Google Apps.

    And anyway “difficult” is relative. I suspect if more people cared enough to want to do it, the market would make it easier.

  • Google is the ‘big box’ retailer of tech. They will try to insert their apps anywhere they can, wherever they can find the slightest loophole and ride it until they are either reprimanded or identified as “corrupting” OS platforms that reroutes, without user knowledge or consent, to a third-party app or device that adds a profit as little as one-tenth of a penny. And with their sizable market share, it all contributes to their profit margin. And, probably in excess of any retroactive fine or penalties.

    While off-shore servers may still be subject to the NSA and other agencies, it doesn’t mean Google won’t fight disclosing their data. And they can always intentionally “sink” the floating data center – “oops, there goes our data, down to the ocean floor.”

    (Partial reference): Google’s Offshore Data Centres Won’t Be Out Of The NSA’s Reach, Nor The US Government’s
    Tim Worstall Oct 27,

  • Rich Rostrom

    The fine is $5 billion, that is, 4.3 billion.

  • Sam Duncan

    Well, I did say “the manufacturer, in collusion with Google”, Rob. But yes, it’s a fair point. And only reinforces the futility of this fine.

  • -XC

    What’s amusing about this is … 99% of Android users have never noticed this. And if you told them, they would not care. And if you explained it to them, they would not believe they were harmed. I’m confused how you can fine someone for harming another party who doesn’t know or believe they’ve been harmed.

    -XC

    PS – of the 1% how know what “root” is, probably fewer than 1% will ever even want it enough to lazily download an app to do something. Then about 1% of them will avoid bricking their phones. I have to remind myself I swim in the nerd end of the pool…..

  • bobby b

    All along the Barbary Coast in the 1600’s and 1700’s, commercial shippers took the risk of being pirated because they could predict that their losses to the pirates would not overcome their profits. So long as the pirates only captured X% of shipping, the shippers could still make money.

    It wasn’t until the pirates became effective enough to curtail profit that serious effort was made to stop them.

    I would imagine that there are whole cadres of accountants working for the EU who try to predict the maximum level of possible fines to be levied upon Google, et al. such that they’ll keep coming back for more. So long as they keep their plunder under the amount of Google’s profit in the market, they can continue to tax them with “fines”.

  • Katy Hibbert

    So many young people support the EU. How can they not? It’s the sea they swim in. And yet they also swim, unwittingly, in a capitalist sea of Apple, Facebook, Android, Amazon, and a capitalist ocean delivering products these entitled snowflakes use to protest about capitalism, Trump and Brexit.

    Little do they know that by plundering Google et al, the EU is potentially curtailing their rights to self-expression. They will be silenced. And then where will we be?

  • Rob Fisher

    “They will try to insert their apps anywhere they can”

    They can try but it is still voluntary to use their apps or give them data. The reason they are successful is that so many people think their usefulness outweighs their downsides, me included, since I don’t find them at all threatening.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The EU has form in this area: they try to restrict competitors using anti-trust charges. They are afraid that in the motor industry with the advent of electric driverless that cars will simply become boxes for Google software – which is where all the money is made – this is also one of the main driver of Galileo.

    Apple, Sony, Dyson, Baidu, Google-Auto-LLC, Tesla-Motors and Uber et al are becoming significant players in the industry: this has got German and French manufacturers and publishers so worried that they are attacking Google with EU anti-trust charges.

    According to Stefan Heumann of Berlin think-tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung:

    “Initially this was publishers against platforms. Now it is about Google expanding its reach into areas of traditional manufacturing [like] cars and home appliances. This has German industry worried.”

    The EU pulled the same stunt with Intel in 2007.

    The EU is Volkswagen writ large – when they can’t hack it they crook.

  • I still haven’t seen a clear answer to Stonyground’s question:

    If Google say get lost we aren’t paying it, what powers do the EU have to make them?

    I would also like to know. What happens if Google tells them to stick the fine right up their collective Brussels?

  • Eric

    What happens if Google tells them to stick the fine right up their collective Brussels?

    It’s had to imagine the EU couldn’t just take the money from Google’s assets in EU financial institutions. Even beyond that, Google will be highly motivated not to give up income streams in the EU.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Look, Google is American, therefore it is automatically evil! Why is that hard to understand? Also, Google is from the Anglosphere, and I bet it was a Frenchman who initiated proceedings against a non-French company.
    And the EU will soon be losing money from the British state, so they feel the need to replace it somehow.

  • George Atkisson

    So. What if Google simply blocks all EU users from accessing Google or any Google apps? Every attempt to access results in a text stating that all EU users are blocked due to a hostile workplace environment. How long would it take to get Brussels to “reconsider” its position?

  • Or, what if Google didn’t even bother to block EU users, but simply stated in their TOS that Google is not intended for Europeans, and that if they choose to use those services, it is entirely at their own risk?

  • John Bayley

    Yes, the days of Google’s “don’t be evil” days are well and truly long over.
    However it is a fact that these days, data mining is the preferred business model everywhere one looks, from Microsoft’s Windows 10 to the utter corruption that is Facebook.
    At least for those like me, who care about such things, it is still a lot easier to root an Android phone and install a firewall, privacy and ad filters, than it is for all the other tech giants.
    It is not hard to see that this is not at all about “privacy” and “user choice”, but again only about money and power.
    How very EU!

  • bobby b

    Google has jurisdictional presence and a ton of cash and real estate spread all over the EU and within reach of the EU. Worth far more than the threatened fine.

    That’s why they’ll spend the next few years negotiating this fine and the other conditions and orders. Because, ultimately, they’re screwed for this $5B.

    (ETA: This is the opposite of the previously-discussed situation of the small completely non-EU internet companies who have nothing to do with the EU and thus would have no need to obey the recent (almost-passed) EU copyright mess. The EU has no power over them, and can’t even grab their money. With Google, the EU has the power over them, and their money is sitting right there in the open.)

  • Mr Ed

    Here’s what the EU says about these fines, try not to laugh (that might be seditious). It is the Spanish Inquisition model of being self-financing, and this is illegal under England’s Common Law per Dr Bonham’s Case.

    What happens to the proceeds from fines?
    The amount of the fines is paid into the Community Budget. The fines therefore help to finance the European Union and reduce the tax burden on individuals.

  • Eric

    Because, ultimately, they’re screwed for this $5B.

    I doubt that. For a tiny fraction of that number they can pay of the right Eurocrats to delay payment until it can be swept under the rug. They can flout the law all they want, just not publicly.

    There’s a reason large, powerful corporations don’t dislike large, powerful governments.

  • Mr Ed

    There are mechanisms for the fine to reduced, if there is co-operation with the EU authorities, and a fine can be parlayed into a deal, if it can be struck, e.g. adding an extra search facility into Android that almost no one will actually use, but it is there. Fines are calculated by a formula to be large enough to be a nuisance but are not meant (on their own) to put a company out of business, and they can be reduced e.g. if a company is approaching insolvency. It’s all about a well-adjusted parasite adapting to its host.

    In terms of the mechanism, the fines are levied under an EU Regulation, which has ‘direct effect’ throughout the EU and no national government can do anything about them, or about raids on offices by EU officials who may enter and seize documents for copying.

    Ultimately, I imagine that a fine could be enforced as a debt to the EU in the national courts where the assets are located, by account and asset seizure and sale etc.

  • Google has jurisdictional presence and a ton of cash and real estate spread all over the EU and within reach of the EU. (bobby b, July 19, 2018 at 5:46 am)

    I assumed that was the case. And if Google decides to relocate some of it to the UK to reduce their exposure to future plundering, that’s all jam for Brexit, since

    $5 billion here, $5 billion there – soon enough, you’re talking about real money

    (to paraphrase a well-known quote). Meanwhile, it is I suppose not impossible that some beneficial increase in the openness of platforms will indirectly accrue – one may hope – but I will not be thanking the EU for it.

  • Jacob

    “Apple, Sony, Dyson, Baidu, Google-Auto-LLC, Tesla-Motors and Uber et al are becoming significant players in the industry”

    Can you see what’s interesting in this list? (Add Facebook) – No European companies.
    No big innovation took place in Europe – since when? WW1 ?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The whole structure of “competition policy” (a term that is misleading as the “German Democratic Republic”) is a crock: it is based on a false understanding of a market as being some sort of static game where players have perfect knowledge and no frictional costs; it ignores how the very “imperfections” of markets are the spurs to entrepreneurial action, and also how to innovate in a real sense is to create a sort of monopoly. Where monopoly is bad is when it is enforced by the State, as in the case of government rules and actions that raise barriers to entry, subsidise incumbent firms, etc. (And no, intellectual property need not involve a monopoly in that sense since the creator is bringing something to the market that previously did not exist.) So much of anti-trust/competition policy is arbitrary and a license for policians/officials to shake down firms they don’t like, such as those who refuse to play the lobbying game in Washington, Brussels or wherever.

    Here is a link worth checking out: https://mises.org/library/politically-incorrect-guide-antitrust-policy

    As the late Ayn Rand pointed out, competition policy is a pit of arbitrariness: if you charge the same price as your competitors, you are colluding; if you charge more, you are gouging, and less, you are engaging in predatory pricing.

    Now some will say that this is all well and good, but somehow modern technology firms are different because of their network effects, the “winner-takes-all” situation vis a vis Facebook, Google, and the rest. But while incumbent firms can achieve great market power, they are not as immovable as one might think. People once thought IBM and Kodak were all-powerful, as were Ford, GM or so forth. We know better. In a decade’s time, I’d be willing to bet that Facebook, to take one case, will rank very differently in our lives.

  • Mr Ed

    Jacob,

    No big innovation took place in Europe – since when? WW1 ?

    Fred Sanger, Sir Frank Whittle, Sir Barnes Wallis, John Taylor, Turing and pals, graphene…

  • Mr Ed

    Jacob,

    No big innovation took place in Europe – since when? WW1 ?

    Fred Sanger, Sir Frank Whittle, Sir Barnes Wallis, John Taylor, Turing and pals, graphene…

  • There is no doubt Android has made our lives better by introducing vital competition to Apple’s products. It has also enslaved all of us stupid Eloi… can you think of a more effective spying platform than a ubiquitous wifi-connected GPS-enabled computer carried on our persons? In this way, we can regard Android as vastly widening the costs and benefits of cell phone technology.

    The EU $5B fine is kleptocracy; it addresses a harm consumers do not believe exists, it fixes nothing, creates no new tech, increases costs, and finances the kleptocracy to leech onto the necks of other successful producers. Perhaps Google might learn from Theresa May’s brexit strategy and not quite ever get around to paying the fine?

    There are alternatives to Apple and Android, if consumers are really concerned: https://ubports.com/

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Mr Ed, is the UK in Europe? I noticed Dyson on the list. Rubic’s Cube, anyone?

  • Fraser Orr

    This sort of stuff is so stupid, and it needs to be surfaced. If I were google I’d make a new rule for all European sellers of phones with their OS. The rule would be that they had to charge an extra $50 and that they must put it as a separate line item on the customer’s bill called “EU Legislative Compliance Fee”.

    Part of the problem with government cost is that it is buried in such a way that the people who pay it (consumers) don’t see it or the link to the government bullies. The more these things can be made manifest, the better off we will be.

    However, I am sure that what Google will do is that which is best for shareholders. Genuflect, negotiate a reduction in the fine, and allow the prancing popinjays in the European Deep State burnish their halos. And from a business point of view that is probably the right thing for them to do.

  • And from a business point of view that is probably the right thing for them to do.

    It brings to mind a quote about danegeld and Danes. At some point it’s better to pay millions to fight being plundered rather than pay a penny in tribute.

  • Mr Black

    I’m perfectly content to see two authoritarian leftist institutions dig at each other with knives for a while. Too bad they can’t both lose.

  • Paul Marks

    I despise Google (a bunch of leftists who twist everything against people who do not share their world view) – but I despise the European Union, a bunch of Mafia style extortionists, far more than I despise Google.

  • Will

    I’m all for anything that diminishes the big 3, google, amazon and facebook. Shame the Eu didn’t find some hefty criminal charges for Sundar. Wish the fine had been 1 trillion.

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