Joaquin Almunia is considered one of the most powerful regulators in tech because of his role as the European Union's antitrust chief. But now that the EU has decided not to let Google run roughshod over consumers and competitors, Almunia, who is texting buds with Google chairman Eric Schmidt, finds himself an awkward position.
A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Almunia sent a letter to his fellow commissioners, urging them to accept a meager settlement offered by Google. Valleywag obtained a copy of the private letter, embedded below.
The EU officially began investigating whether Google abused its dominance in search and online advertising in 2010. Google is offering to settle because it wants to avoid a massive fine, as well as the bad rep that comes from breaking the law—a stigma that the corporation has managed to evade in the U.S., if you know what I mean. (I mean the Justice Department's Antitrust division is for display only.)
The letter represents a defensive maneuver by Mr. Almunia to quell the concern among some of his colleagues that he should have outlined far firmer action against Google by now.
The compromise Google is offering is weak. The search giant effectively hid more useful content from competitors, like restaurant and hotel reviews, in favor of its own results. To atone, Google wants to insert a special box showing "at least three competitors each time its own results appear in specialized searches," but with a bunch of loopholes. The deal only lasts for five years, will not apply to Google Maps, and Google gets to pick its own monitor. Almunia's argument for why his commissioners should accept this half-assed settlement (Google's third offer) is because he's kicking the can to future regulators:
But the letter, made available by a person who did not want to be identified because the document had not been made public, indicates that Mr. Almunia is trying to marshal support for an unpopular provisional deal by emphasizing to critics that new investigations await Google.
In other words, Almunia, who has "made negotiation, rather than confrontation, a hallmark of his term," is asking his colleagues to approve this subpar proposal because the EU is coming down hard on Google in other areas, like personal data, tax liability, and scraping content from publishers.
Almunia's letter mentions a recently filed case about anticompetitive practices related to the Android operating system:
He also mentions a moonshot-worthy list of complaints for monopolistic behavior:
If the NSA has the texts between Almunia and Eric Schmidt about this letter, we'd love to see them.
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