In a memo to employees, Google disavows any wrongdoing or anticompetitive practices ahead of tomorrow’s expected antitrust charges from the European Union, reports Re/code.
“This is obviously very disappointing news, especially for the search team that has worked so hard to create a great experience for our users over the last 16 years,” goes the memo in its introduction.
Disappointing is right — the legal process, which could take as long as a year or two as Google pleads its case, could result in the search giant getting fined $US6 billion, or 10% of its global revenues. It’s bad news for the tech giant all around.
At the heart of the case are the complaints from competing sites like Yelp, that claim Google essentially blackmailed them into allowing the use of their content and product listings, at the risk of having their search results pushed further down search pages.
Google says that never happened, and in fact, its competitors are doing just fine no matter what Google may or may not have done. Thanks to mobile apps and a growing base of more educated users who know how to take their business elsewhere, Google says, consumers have plenty of options.
“Competition online is thriving — despite what many of the complainants in this case allege,” reads the memo.
The email includes a mention that the EU is also opening a preliminary investigation into Android over whether or not it violates antitrust laws to package Google apps on a Google phone.
Google says apps from competitors like Facebook and Microsoft are often bundled on Android handsets too, so it’s not a huge cause for concern.
“All told, consumers have a lot of choice — and they are exercising it,” the memo reads.
At its closing, the memo urges Googlers to stay silent about the proceedings outside of the company and stay the course as it builds its products.
That’s going to be a tall order for Google, which is going to find itself under intense scrutiny for the next couple of years. And what we learn may not cast the tech company in the most flattering light.
Here’s the full text of the memo, as obtained by Re/code:
As the Financial Times has just reported, the European Commission will tomorrow issue a Statement of Objections (SO) regarding the display and ranking of certain search results, in particular shopping. This is obviously very disappointing news, especially for the search team that has worked so hard to create a great experience for our users over the last 16 years.
First, a few facts about the SO process. An SO is not a final finding. It’s a document in which the Commission staff sets out its preliminary arguments so that the company in question can respond. Expect some of the criticism to be tough. But remember, it’s also an opportunity for Google to tell our side of the story. The back-and-forth over an SO can take some time (even a year or two), and in a number of cases has resulted in the Commission modifying their claims or settling the case. If the two sides cannot settle their differences, the Commission issues an infringement decision, which can be appealed in court.
We have a very strong case, with especially good arguments when it comes to better services for users and increased competition:
Better services for users: Google Search has improved tremendously since the days of ten blue links. We can now answer many queries directly, saving users huge amounts of time and effort — whether it’s the weather, directions to the local pharmacy, flights, or where to get the cheapest camera.
The competition is just one click away — and it’s growing. People can use Bing, Yahoo, Quora, DuckDuckGo, and a new wave of search assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, as well as more specialised services like Amazon, Idealo, Le Guide, Expedia, or eBay. In addition, users increasingly turn to social networks like Facebook and Twitter to find news and suggestions — where to eat or which movies to watch.
Mobile is changing everything — with the explosion of apps taking people directly to the information they want. Today 7 out of every 8 minutes on mobile devices is spent within apps. Yelp, for example, has said that over 40% of its traffic comes direct from its mobile app.
Competition online is thriving — despite what many of the complainants in this case allege. Indeed if you look at shopping, it’s clear that there’s a ton of competition (including from Amazon and eBay) that has not been harmed by Google’s own shopping service. Just look at the following graphs compiled using comScore data:
Shopping Sites in Germany (unique visitors, ‘000s)
Shopping Sites in France (unique visitors, ‘000s)
Shopping Sites in the UK (unique visitors, ‘000s)
It is the same story with travel — another very competitive vertical:
Travel sites in Germany
Source: ComScore MMX and Google data (for Google), desktop traffic, unique visitors (‘000s)
We believe that the Commission will also open a formal investigation into Android tomorrow. This is just the start of a process and does not mean the EC will necessarily take action (for example they opened and closed an inquiry into iTunes a few years ago). We have a very strong case on Android as well:
Android has lowered prices and increased choice for consumers (there are over 18,000 different devices available today);
It’s an open-source operating system that can be used free-of-charge by anyone;
We paid out over $US7 billion in revenue over the past year to developers and content publishers;
Consumers decide which apps they use and download on Android devices. Apps that compete directly with Google such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft Office, and Expedia are easily available to Android users; and
Many of these apps come pre-loaded onto Android devices. Google apps, like Search, Maps, Gmail, and Google Play, are also available out of the box on many handsets. The recent Samsung S6 is a great example of this — there are pre-installed Facebook, Microsoft, and Google apps.
All told, consumers have a lot of choice — and they are exercising it. And many, many other companies have very successful mobile businesses — including Apple, the most valuable (mobile) company in the world.
Finally, we know the upcoming announcements will be distracting. But you can help in two ways. First, by not commenting on pending legal issues, internally or externally. And second, by focusing on what you all do best … building great products that serve our users and customers.