Major media publisher admits it is “afraid of Google”
Worries the search giant is turning into a “superstate” immune from prosecution.
The chief executive of Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest media publishers, has said that his company is afraid of the power that Google has accumulated and worries that the search giant is becoming a “superstate,” immune from regulation.
Mathias Döpfner published an open letter to Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which he points out that Google is not only the largest search engine in the world, but the largest video platform, the largest browser, and the most used e-mail service and mobile operating system. The open letter was published as a response to a guest column written by Schmidt in the same newspaper.
Döpfner goes on to talk about the “schizophrenic” relationship between Axel Springer and Google. On one hand the publisher is part of a European antitrust lawsuit against the search giant, while it also relies on Google’s traffic and ad revenue. “We know of no alternative that even begins to offer similar technological requirements for automated advertising sales, and we cannot do without this source of income,” he says.
He refers to a case where a change to Google’s algorithm led to a drop in traffic to an Axel Springer subsidiary of 70 percent: “This is a real case. And that subsidiary is a competitor of Google… I am sure it is a coincidence.”
"We are afraid of Google," he added.
He went on to talk of Google’s monopoly, with its 90-percent market share in web searches (March 2014 figures). “The market belongs to only one,” he said.
He points out that Google lists its own products—from commerce to Google+ profiles—higher up than competitor results, even if the competitor website has more visitors. “This is called abuse of a dominant position,” he says. Despite this, the European Commission effectively sanctioned Google’s approach as long as Google offers a new advertising position at the start of the search list where the discriminated company can pay to advertise.
"This is not a compromise," said Döpfner, "this is the EU officially sanctioning your business model, which is called ‘protection money’ in less honorable circles."
Döpfner also makes reference to the “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument espoused at different times by Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, pointing out that such words could also come from the “head of the Stasi” or another dictator’s intelligence agency.
"Google knows more about every digital citizen than George Orwell dared to imagine in his wildest visions of 1984," he says. Döpfner is particularly concerned about comments made by founder Larry Page, who said that there are lots of things the company would like to do but can’t do because they are illegal—pesky antitrust and privacy laws get in the way. Google has also expressed an interest in building floating working environments—for “seasteading.”
"Does this mean that Google is planning on operating in a legal vacuum? A kind of super-state that can navigate its floating kingdom past all nation states?" he asks.
There is hope, however, argues Döpfner. Google could set a good example. Google could lead by example and create transparency by producing search results based on “clear quantitative criteria” and dealing with algorithm changes openly.
Read the damning assessment of Google in full.
This story originally appeared in Wired UK.