For the past several months, Google chairman Eric Schmidt seemed to be just about everywhere in Europe, as the search giant has come under siege there on a number of fronts.
Knowing that Google faces powerful criticism that it is too powerful, doesn’t pay enough taxes, and doesn’t do enough to protect privacy, Schmidt did his best to take the company’s case directly to the people.
In early October, he spoke at a startup conference in Madrid, warning that European governments might “regulate out and prevent innovation.” A few days later, he popped up in Berlin to give a speech at a local tech company to remind people just what Google does for the German and European economies.
“We employ over 1,100 people across five offices in Germany and last year alone invested over €200 million ($250 million) here,” he said, according to a transcript. “Overall, we have 9,000 people working in Europe, and we have made capital investments worth €4 billion ($5 billion) over the last four years. We’re deeply committed to this country, and we believe in this continent.”
And between September and November, he chaired The Advisory Council to Google on the Right to be Forgotten, which held public hearings in nine European capitals, including Brussels, London, Rome, Warsaw, and Paris.
The messages he delivered at each stop were variations on a theme.
“Europe needs to accept and embrace disruption,” Schmidt wrote back in September in a guest post on a European Commission tech blog. “The old ways of doing things need to face competition that forces them to innovate.”
How’d he do? Judging by events of the past week, not so well.
Late last week, word leaked that the European Parliament was preparing a draft resolution calling for the breakup of Google. Then came a call from European privacy legislators for Google and other search engines to expand the scope of the Right to Be Forgotten ruling by scrubbing search results at the request of users outside of Europe as well as inside the continent.
On top of that, four German ministers sent a letter this week to the European Commission asking it to consider far-reaching regulations of powerful Internet platforms such as Google.
All of this comes as a new European Commission takes office this month. That means the long-running antitrust investigation Google faces has passed into the hands of a new EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s former economy minister.
In a statement and a series of interviews, Vestager has hinted that she will likely take a long time to review the investigation and consider how best to address Google’s impact on Europe. Which means that the antitrust issue isn’t likely to be resolved anytime soon.
“The sheer amount of data controlled by Google gives rise to a series of societal challenges,” Vestager said in a statement this month. “Privacy is one of the most pressing concerns. Media pluralism is another. Not all of these challenges are primarily economic in nature, and not all of them are competition related.
“In short, the issues at stake in our investigations have a big potential impact on many players, they are multifaceted and complex. I will therefore need some time to decide on the next steps.”
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