The Lesson of Datagate
In a few weeks, we will know if the European Commission will begin a formal lawsuit against Google for abusing its dominant position, ending a preliminary investigation which began in February 2010.
Yes, you read that correctly: February 2010. A few days before Steve Jobs unveiled the revolutionary iPad, which survived him to evolve into its current Air version. At that time, Nokia thought itself a worthy competitor in the mobile devices market, but two months ago the dying company was sold to Microsoft, which is not doing so well itself. Back then, someone predicted a stock quote for Facebook that would be realized two and a half years later.
In other words, we are talking about an age of technology gone by. The digital world has completely changed and in Brussels they are still debating whether Google's proposed solutions are sufficient to remedy the antitrust problems brought to light by the German company Ciao, the British company Foundem and the French company eJustice back in 2009.
This depressing investigation process headed by Joaquin Almunia shows -- once again -- the eurocracy's bewildering complexity and the political system's inefficiency at every level when confronting problems created by global digital operators, who conduct their own businesses with complete disregard for local regulations.
You need only look at the multiple accusations of tax avoidance against Google and Co. that the European Union and its individual states are powerless to act on. These so-called "Over the Tops (OTT)" seem to be the modern version of the "Achilles and the Tortoise" paradox with a role reversal; now the tortoise has been hopelessly lagging behind the speedy warrior right from the start.
Our current situation, particularly in the already-digitalized publishing world, is marked by the absence of a level playing field where people can compete without steroids or personal fouls. Since the regulators -- who are constantly being called upon to do their jobs -- cannot guarantee this, we are all obligated to find a way to bridge this opportunity gap; by making substantial changes to our business models or even venturing into new markets. In Europe, the frontrunners in the industry such as Axel Springer in Germany and Schibsted in Scandinavia are already moving in this direction.
Public opinion could also lend a hand in restoring the equilibrium, since the revelations of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald about mass digital surveillance have made it known that information users voluntarily give to Google, Apple, Facebook, Skype etc. is not used just to provide us with better services. On the contrary, it is given to Big Brother, who has come to life only 30 years after Orwell predicted.
The search engine's old motto "Don't be Evil" is being interpreted as its exact opposite by the most ardent supporters of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and all the others. Maybe even Commissioner Alumnia will come to realize it.
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