The greatest challenge facing West: Google fined for abusing power

It is not at all surprising that Google yesterday rejected the findings — and a €2.42bn antitrust fine — imposed by the European Commission after a seven-year investigation into how, according to the EC, the company abused its position “to give illegal advantage” to its own shopping service by making access to alternatives far more difficult than it might be.

Just as Apple CEO Tim Cook forcefully rejected a EC €13bn tax-and-fines bill imposed last August, Google rejected yesterday’s findings: “We respectfully disagree... We will review the commission’s decision... we look forward to continuing to make our case,” the corporation responded.

EC competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who imposed yesterday’s sanction after one of the most complex and politically charged investigations undertaken by Brussels, previously hit truck makers with a record cartel fine of nearly €3bn.

The Google fine tops a €1.06bn penalty imposed on Intel eight years ago, a ruling awaiting a court of appeal conclusion.

Just as with Apple — with Ireland as an enthusiastic but compromised character witness — the Google case will take many years to resolve but resolved it must be.

The issues in play are at the very core of how our world is being remade by ever-more powerful commercial interests; of how wealth is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people; of how international corporations — and in turn their billionaire owners — seem indifferent to the democratically endorsed authority of national governments.

Like the ball-and-musket imperialists of old, they seem happy to ride roughshod over any concerns, much less any expectations, host nations or communities might dare articulate.

These issues are also about securing the tax revenues needed to run a modern society, an idea that often seems problematic for mega corporations who think that providing jobs, no matter how temporary, discharges that obligation.

That this idea has taken such a firm grip in the minds of centre-right and right wing politicians is a problem. Resolving those issues and many, many more like them, to the satisfaction of all parties is the biggest political challenge facing the West today.

Their resolution in a way that supports the idea of a social contract; in a way that helps businesses grow and make profits; in a way that protects equity, opportunity and the dignity of material security anyone who makes a contribution to society should enjoy and all in a way that upholds laws — especially those on tax compliance — is essential to the stability we all enjoy.

If conflating a dispute between one of the giants of the age and a European federation to reach these conclusions seems an over-reach then explain how Jeremy Corbyn did so well in the British election; how President Trump won the drain-the-swap vote; or how our own parliament’s viability hangs by a thread because so many diverse voices are represented.

The banking crisis of 2008 may have the genesis of a new scepticism around the idea that capitalism and it sharpest expression — the market — ever put social responsibility before profit. The Google and Apple rulings add to that unease.


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