Google, the lesser of two evils?

Google’s latest financial results, published on Monday, are definitely a cause for celebration: despite the record fine of $2.7 billion imposed by the European Union, reduced to little more than a footnote, the company remains a money-making machine: growth of no less than 21%, unusual for a company with a reasonably mature business model that is driven mainly by businesses such as mobility, video and, above all, the cloud, where it has tripled the number of large deals and seems bent on making clear that although it dominates advertising on all digital platforms, the key to its future is not in advertising.

The company has doubled the size of its workforce since 2013 to 75,000, and its CEO, Sundar Pichai, has been rewarded with a position on the Alphabet board for the two years of growth since his appointment.

So far, so sweet. In about eighteen years, Google has become one of the most important companies in the world: we all use some of its products, from its browser, which already has a 60% market share on computers and 47% on Smartphones; its search engine, which is used by 80% of the world; to its e-mail, which reaches 22% in a highly fragmented market. And the problem, precisely, could come from there: a possible change of opinion with respect to the implications of the domination of the markets.

A group of US Democrats seem to be making progress in developing an idea that has hitherto been considered anathema: the possibility of forcing the break-up of internet giants like Google, Amazon and others, as a way of telling the electorate they have their interests at heart, as opposed to those of large corporations, something voters who backed Donald Trump seemed sensitive about. This would also include the large cable television companies, loathed by most people for running a de facto cartel.

Such measures would bring US anti-monopoly policy closer to that of the European Union, and would be a pincer movement on the large technology companies in their two most prominent markets. These are somewhat populist measures: there is no evidence whatsoever that the growth of large technology companies threatens competition — few markets are so vibrant and generate as much news as technology ­– or the interests of users, and the European Union’s approach seems increasingly to be a series of erratic measures designed specifically to hurt the US giants in every possible way.

The last battle in Europe now seems to be about the most absurd topic in the world: the terms of service: those labyrinthine texts that are the biggest lie on the internet, which pop up so we can affirm: “I have read and understood the terms of service.” It now seems that the bureaucrats of the European Union, in the absence of other ways to get at the technology companies, want to use it to collect the umpteenth fine.

Would the world be a better place if we forced large technology companies to split into smaller companies? My impression is that it wouldn’t, and that, as I said earlier, these kinds of measures are seen as vote winners, and what’s more, open the door to large Chinese companies, sponsored by a government engaged in a coordinated effort to dominate the field of artificial intelligence. I am sorry, but I consider myself a convinced democrat, and the idea that countries with long democratic traditions taking measures to harm their successful companies to indirectly benefit companies created in undemocratic countries is absurd. Sincerely, between companies like Google or Amazon, and their Chinese equivalents, backed by their autocratic government, I prefer the former. But maybe I’m missed something.


(En español, aquí)

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