More on the Italian Antitrust investigation upon Google News

The strongest claim supporting the Italian Antitrust investigation upon Google News is the alleged Google “dominant position” that would make Italian publishers poorer (better, less rich) by not getting advertising revenues from their online contents.

There is some doubt, nevertheless, that  Google’s market role could be defined as a “dominant position”. 1

Although it is undeniable that Google is the users’ preferred choice, and that Google has created from scratch a new business model attracting a huge quantity of customers, its legal status can hardly be defined as “dominant” in the Antitrust meaning. A characteristic of “dominant position” is the customer’s “locked-in syndrome”. Once you buy a product (or a service), its technological, purposely created oddities – such as non-standard file format etc. – make it almost impossible to switch to another similar, competing product. The most blatant example is the operating system market, where Microsoft was able to secure its market quota through its dominant position.

In Google’s case, au contraire, users are not “locked-in”: they can buy advertising services wherever they like, and use other search-engines at their will. Furthermore, Google can’t do anything to force its users to use its services, except by improving efficiency and quality. This means, in other words, that Google might lose its business power on the snap of finger. To put it short, cannot rest on its laurels.

As for the specific claims of the Italian publishers, there is neither a contract with them, nor a broader legal obligation falling on Google’s shoulders, to force the search engine to actually find “everything” on the Internet. 2 If they don’t like Google’s “banning attitude” (that still has to be demonstrated, by the way) they can simply find different agreement with Google’s competitors, thus forcing users to change their search engine of choice. Provided – of course – that Internet users find those contents of some value, but this is a horse of a different colour.

  1. “Dominant position” is a concept belonging to the Antitrust law and depicts a situation where a company stays in its market in a much stronger position than its competitors, thus setting the rules for competition.
  2. Oddly enough, this is the first time, at least in Italy, where Google is “charged” with not making contents available, while in the past its management has been accused of not removing “disturbing contents” from its indexes

Italian Antitrust to storm on Google News?

Yesterday  the Italian headline news announced that the Italian Antitrust, following  claims by FIEG (Federazione Italiana Editori e Giornali – Italian Federation of Publishers and Journals), opened an investigation against Google, “charged” with discriminating against those publishers who had denied the availability of their content in Google’s News platform.

As I’ve pointed out in an interview by ANSA, this claim seems to stand on very weak legs.

As first, people use Google simply because it works. As soon as a (not necessarily new) search engine will prove to be more efficient, people quickly discharge Google.

Secondly: Google is not, by far, the only search engine to provide news search. People are not affected by a “locked-in syndrome” like in the operating system field: in other words, nobody has put a gun on the users’ temples to use Google.

Thirdly: the Internet economy is based on a quid pro quo, and the search engine sector doesn’t behave any differently. Publishers have contents, Google the technologies to make these contents available. If they join forces, publishers get traffic (i.e.: advertising), Google its part of the cake. If they don’t, they loose traffic and advertising revenues. That’s the Internet, honey!

Fourthly, let’s admit – for the sake of the discussion – that Google actually does what it is charged with. So what? As soon as the law is abided, Google is a private company, and the only people who can complain about its business strategies are the shareholders. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to force Google to look for specific content.

A final note: this situation is a typical demonstration of how “innovation” is “awarded” in Italy by the content industry. Instead of trying to unleash the power of new tools, the reaction of the traditional powers is to break it. It happened with software, it happened with music and video, and now with the Internet.

Thepiratebay.org case. An Italian Court affirms a dangerous principle of law

N.B. Background information for this post are available here. 

The Bergamo Court has overruled the preemptive seizure order with a decision that, instead of solving the problems arising from the first decision, creates worst issues. The Bergamo Court, in fact, has overruled the seizure, but only on the legal basis that “seizure” cannot be interpreted as “traffic hijacking”.

But the court did not, as it should have done, evaluate first of all the lack of Italian jurisdiction. By not doing so, the Bergamo tribunal has created a dangerous case law that, by reciprocity, allows any foreign magistrate to investigate and take to court an Italian citizen, with the additional absurdity that even in the absence of any evidence that a crime has been committed, a legal prosecution can be based on hypothetical “statistic calculation”.

Furthermore, by asserting the validity of the public prosecutor investigation, the Court has de facto established the automatic liability not only of internet providers, but also of search engines, and the possibility of using, as an investigative tool, data and information with no solid ground.

And also, by saying that even if preemptive seizure has been wrongly enforced , it is in theory compatible with sect.14 D.LGV 70/20003 (EU E-commerce directive implementation, dealing with ISP liability), the Court of Bergamo on the one hand allows “owners of ideas” to push for an additional and barbaric copyright law amendment while, on the other hand, it reaffirms an obvious error of interpretation of law by affirming the role of ISPs as “sheriffs of the net”.

EU Censorship Italian Style…

Here we are. Words are spreading that EU will push to enforce “censorship on words”. On 10 Sept., 2007 Reuters quoted a statement made by EU Commissioner Franco Frattini (Italian, sadly) who claimed:

«I do intend to carry out a clear exploring exercise with the private sector … on how it may be possible to use technology to prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism».

I can think of no better comment on that, but the one made by ALCEI:

Mr. Frattini’s suggestion is unacceptable, extremely dangerous and a serious threat against free speech. The “internet-teaches-how-to-make bombs” nonsense has been around since the net’s early years. Along with “copyright infringements” and misrepresented child protection urges – as ALCEI denounced over ten years ago. The “internet-bomb” issue has always been one of the excuses to invoke censorship and repression.

It is obvious – and largely proven by facts – that “filtering” or “prohibiting” words or concepts is totally useless against criminals, while it turns into a weapon to kill freedom of information and expression. Preventing all citizens from discussing controversial topics doesn’t reduce violence, murder or terrorism.

Peter Fleischer’s answer (Google’s Global Privacy Counsel) – as quoted by the Italian newspaper Repubblica.it – is not less concerning:

“There are a lot of reason why sombody might want to search on the Internet a word like “genocide”, for teaching purposes, say. According to Fleischer, the problem is to prevent some information to be released on line – such the bomb-making-how-to”. “But if a page is no the web” – he said – “Google must be allowed to search for it” (Translation from Italian by Andrea Monti. Please check the link above for the original text.)

It seems that Google might cope with censorship, as soon as the net is not affected.

Am I wrong?