Analysis

European Parliament votes for search-engine unbundling


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googleAs predicted, European politicians have voted in favour of breaking up Google. Without, as it turns out, actually mentioning Google by name at all.

In a vote passed by 384 to 174, the European Parliament voted yesterday for measures “to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interlinked services by operators of search engines”, calling for the European Commission to “consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services”.

That *would* be something that applied to companies like Microsoft and Yahoo, but of course the main target here is Google, and what politicians see as the potentially un-neutral relationship of its search engine to its other businesses like YouTube and Android.

(And yes, Google Play Music, at a time when there’s still a lot of discussion about how legal music services are ranked in Google’s search algorithms – albeit with the argument more about how all legal services compare to pirate sites, rather than how non-Google services compare to Google-owned ones.)

The MEPs see measures to separate search from other commercial services as critical to their hopes of generating an extra €260bn a year for the EU economy from its “digital single market”. But as we’ve noted before, the Parliament has no powers to break up Google or any other tech company: attention turns now to the European Commission.

So, yesterday’s vote is less of a headache for Google than a statement earlier in the month by Margrethe Vestager, the incoming EC competition commissioner. “The sheer amount of data controlled by Google gives rise to a series of societal challenges,” she said.

“Privacy is one of the most pressing concerns. Media pluralism is another.” And Vestager called for “some time to decide on the next steps” on how the EC deals with Google. Expect a period of intense lobbying, with music bodies unlikely to stay out of the fray.

Stuart Dredge

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