Law by means of bluff and counter-bluff

Keith Hudson

Call me naive perhaps, but I’m still inclined to believe that Google is still essentially a highly ethical organisation.  It has seemed to me to be slightly ‘pushy’ in advancing itself in the last few years, but not by overstepping . . . their motto of “doing good” in the world.  Indeed, its fight against the US National Security Agency in keeping its own and its customers’ communications fully encrypted and unable to be penetrated by the government to be a noble and sensible one.

The European Union Commissioners have been harassing Google for five years now to the point of wanting to take it to court for abusing its dominance.  By this, the Commissioners charge Google with harming price comparison websites in the way it displays results from online searches by potential customers by giving eye-catching preference to suppliers which are prominent advertisers on Google.  Further, the new EU competitions commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, is investigating whether Google’s Android smartphone software also over-promotes Google-related services.

On the first charge, Google has replied in a 150-page document stating that the conclusions of EU’s Statement of Objections (SO) “are wrong in law and economics”.  Google is obviously keen to avoid what happened to Microsoft some years ago on EU anti-trust charges when the battle continued for years and ended with Microsoft being fined (or agreeing to be fined) $731 million in 2013.

But what is the international body of law that determines these anti-monopoly matters?  As far as I understand, there isn’t one.  What appears to be happening is the development of international common law — that is law by a common sense of justice — and the building up of cases to act as guidance along the way.  It was right in the case of Microsoft in my opinion because Microsoft had cut too many corners in the past.

In the present case, which as far as I can see can be regarded basically as a game of bluff and counter-bluff between players who each think they have political power — the power to persuade public opinion in Europe — my money is on Google.  But I’m biased because I believe that the EU Commission, while a very clever bureaucracy which means well according to the ‘progressive’ political fashions of the last 100 years and its own survival interests, only sees things through its own ideological fog, and is anyway destined for demise in the coming years on several counts.

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