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.
- “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. ↩
- 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 ↩