Many of us will have seen movies such as Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford, or The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis. We get a sense the world of the future shown is dystopian, with a single corporation towering over most things.
Questions over who controls economic activities have come centre stage. Are decisions made on behalf of people or are they based on what big companies want? Specifically, does the EU protect us or simply try to balance competing needs?
These questions come to mind as the EU hit Google with an antitrust fine of over €2.4bn. According to the competition regulator, Google favoured its own shopping services over rivals. Allegedly, it made it easier to access its own shopping services.
According to EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Google denied European consumers the benefits of competition and choice and limited innovation. Google does not agree with Ms Vestager’s findings.
The Google case is markedly different from Ms Vestager’s €13bn tax ruling affecting Apple and Ireland. It is a competition issue. However, allegations of bias abound. The EU is accused of targeting US companies, including Microsoft and Amazon. Whilst arguing that Google had been guilty of an “old school” competition abuse, Ms Vestager accepted that “Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives”.
That “old school” quip reminded me of a trip to Dodge City and a reenactment of its saloon wars of 1883. The dispute turned nasty after one of the bar owners became the mayor and effectively outlawed new competitors. But it was a skit that amounted to little more than umbrellas and handbags at high noon.
The saloon wars and Google remind us of the difficulty of deciding how to control the buccaneer, while protecting the creator of new services.
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