November 27, 2014 Last Updated 8:21 am

The European Parliament ratchets up pressure on Google through vote in support idea of breaking up company in Europe

Advisory action follows several  failed attempts by publishers to force Google to pay fees for displaying snippets of content in the company’s search results

The European Parliament passed a resolution by a vote of 384 to 174 which calls on the European Commission to “to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” – in other words, breaking up Google.

The resolution states that “the online search market is of particular importance in ensuring competitive conditions within the digital single market.” Google, which usually responds through its Europe blog has not issued a statement as of yet (today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.). It does not specifically recommend breaking up Google in its language (see press release below), but several MPs stated that the European Commission is free to consider such action.

The advisory action ratchets up the pressure on Google following several failed attempts by publishers to force Google to pay publishers for snippets of content that are displayed in the search engine’s results. “German publishers have decided to compete not in the marketplace but in their own pages and in the Bundestag,” Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at City University of New York wrote this week for Zeit Online. “They are using their power to influence the legislature to disadvantage their competitor and to force Google into negotiating some unspecified concessions.”

Several U.S. Congressman sent a letter in opposition to the European Parliament’s resolution: “This and similar proposals build walls rather than bridges [and] do not appear to give full consideration to the negative effect such policies may have on the broader US-EU trade relationship,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyde, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep Dave Camo and Rep. Sander Levin in the letter, excerpts of which appeared in the Financial Times. (No link, as the site is paywalled.)

In 2010, the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google had “abused a dominant position in online search, in violation of European Union rules.” Since that time, Google and European publishers have battled over rules and fees, with European governments siding mostly with the media groups. But attempts to extract fees, or withdraw content have failed as Google has simply shutoff the publishers content, leading to drastic declines in web traffic. Should the European Commission move to break up the search giant in Europe, it is likely Google would simply shutdown its services once again.

Below is the press release from the European Parliament concerning today’s actions:

Press Release:

November 27, 2014 –– The European Parliament called on EU member states and the European Commission to break down barriers to the growth of the EU’s digital single market in a resolution voted on Thursday. MEPs also stressed the need to prevent online companies from abusing dominant positions by enforcing EU competition rules and unbundling search engines from other commercial services.

The digital single market could generate an additional €260 billion a year for the EU economy, as well as boosting its competitiveness, says the text, which was approved by 384 votes to 174, with 56 abstentions. However, it warns that important challenges, such as market fragmentation, lack of interoperabilityas well as regional and demographic inequalities in access to the technology, need to be tackled in order to unlock this potential.

Enforcing EU rules for online search companies

The resolution underlines that “the online search market is of particular importance in ensuring competitive conditions within the digital single market” and welcomes the Commission’s pledges to investigate further the search engines’ practices.

It calls on the Commission “to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interlinked services by operators of search engines”, stressing the importance of non-discriminatory online search. “Indexation, evaluation, presentation and ranking by search engines must be unbiased and transparent”, MEPs say.

Given the role of internet search engines in “commercialising secondary exploitation of obtained information” and the need to enforce EU competition rules, MEPs also call on the Commission “to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” in the long run.

Fast track telecoms package

MEPs stress that “all internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference”. Parliament urges member states to start negotiations on the telecoms package, so as to “put an end to roaming charges inside the EU, provide more legal certainty as regards net neutrality and improve consumer protection”.

Common standards for cloud computing

MEPs call on the Commission “to take the lead in promoting international standards and specifications for cloud computing” so as to ensure that it is privacy friendly, reliable, accessible, highly interoperable, secure and energy efficient.

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