Yesterday, the European parliament passed a resolution to break up Google.
Weirdly, the regulators never actually mentioned Google in the resolution, but it’s pretty clear from their talk about search dominance which company they were thinking of.
It’s mainly a political move. The parliament actually has no power to split the company’s search business from its other businesses, but this resolution places pressure on the antitrust regulators who actually do have this power, although some antitrust experts think it’s logistically impossible. At the very least, these folks can place a bunch of restrictions on Google, like forcing it to bury its own products in search results. Big fines are also a very real possibility.
Europe has been investigating Google on and off for more than three years now, based on complaints from Microsoft and other competitors. The details of these complaints and Google’s actual behaviour will probably influence whatever remedies are handed down.
But it’s also worth stepping back and looking at the big picture.
Google is drawing this kind of fire because of its absolute dominance in a bunch of very important markets. It’s arguably more powerful today than Microsoft was at its peak.
Let’s go to the charts.
First, search. You may have the idea that Microsoft and Yahoo are putting up a decent fight against Google. That’s true in the United States, where they have about 30% share between them. But in Europe, it’s another story. Google has more than 90% market share, according to StatCounter:
Internet search is the most effective form of advertising ever invented. That’s because Google knows exactly what you’re looking for because you just entered it into a search box! If you happen to be looking for a product, Google has a pretty good idea of which ads to show you.
So it’s no wonder that Google is by far the leader in online advertising revenue. This is a much more fragmented market than search, but it’s basically got 4 times as much revenue as its nearest competitor, Facebook. These stats come from eMarketer and are for the entire world, but the breakdown is probably similar in Europe:
But what about mobile advertising? Isn’t Facebook doing better there?
Yes, Facebook is growing its mobile ad revenue more quickly than Google, but overall Google is still way out in front, with more than twice as much market share. These stats are also global, not just for Europe, and come from eMarketer:
It’s logical that Google would be dominating mobile advertising, since Google also owns the Android mobile platform. It’s got between 70% and 90% share, depending on market.
Here’s Android’s market share in the “big 5” European countries — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom — according to Kantar Worldpanel:
Last of all, in case you thought Firefox’s move to swap Google for Yahoo as its default search engine would make a difference — not really.
Although the statistics vary depending on how you count, but StatCounter looks at active usage on its millions of member sites. It shows that Google Chrome dominates in Europe, especially if you include mobile in the overall picture:
Dominating your market is not illegal. Dominating multiple markets is not illegal. Having one or more monopolies is not illegal.
But using that dominance to raise prices and hurt consumers, or squeeze competitors, or enter new markets — well, those kinds of activities may in fact be illegal. And that’s why dominant tech companies draw so much scrutiny from governments.
The EU probably not be able to split Google up. But whatever happens in this particular case, Google’s dominance means regulators are going to be looking closely at it for years to come.