Accessibility Links

Google faces legal storm on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to Android dominance

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/11/12

Think for a moment of a lobster, a lobster the size of about half the planet. One pincer is Europe; the other, the US. And being pinched to dust right in the middle of all that is Google, an internet search engine that you may have heard of. If you have not heard of Google: Google it, dumb-dumb.

And so to the latest instalment of the wildly successful sitcom, 'Everybody Sues Google'. The story so far: everybody has sued Google. Everyone has figured out that Google, the search engine and e-mail and maps-providing giant, has both an amount of money and a pretty strong grip on the ebb and flow of the internet in pretty much every country on the planet. And that makes the search giant ripe for a suin'.

"Google is threatened by a 'perfect storm' of litigation with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the European Commission both readying legal action over how it promotes its own services in search results, and the patent-wielding behaviour of its Motorola Mobility Inc (MMI) phone subsidiary," The Guardian's Charles Arthur reports. And, in perfect storm news, the EC is also planning to swoop down on Google's Android-shaped grip on the mobile market. Reports this week (November 14th) gauged Android market share to be 72 per cent, or three in every four mobile devices worldwide. That's 'a lot'. It also offers Google a fast-track network of devices that can be ushered in the direction of its Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), which in turn advertise own satellite services such as Froogle, Maps and News. Season finale spoiler: by 2015, everything we touch will be branded with Google's ever-so-slightly crappy logo, from computers to mobiles to dogs.

On the US side of the Google lobster, FTC chair Jonathan Leibowitz is widely reported to have issued the company with a consent decree and a deadline of a few days in which to sign it. The notice covers Google's future search space behaviour, and hopes to level the antitrust playing field - but as US-based technology lawyer Bradley Shear notes, Google choosing not to sign could trigger an FTC investigation. "To avoid potential litigation, Google may opt to sign a consent decree," he told the paper. "If Google refuses to settle and the FTC files a lawsuit, the FTC may also decide to open an investigation into Google's other practices, such as its privacy policy changes from earlier this year."

Meanwhile, the European lobster claw - fronted by EC antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia - is also plotting to move against Google if long-term negotiations into Google's antitrust practices that have dominated the summer months don't come to a satisfactory end. "Almunia's team has been investigating Google since November 2010 and is understood to be readying a statement of objections to Google's behaviour in presenting search results that include its own products, such as Google Shopping, in preference to rivals'," said Arthur. 

Obviously Google being so huge means it is the poster boy for 'websites getting sued', but those in legal careers that have a major digital component should watch the developments on both sides of the pond keenly in the coming weeks to see how this one turns out.