Europe has long led the charge in the enforcement of antitrust and anti-monopoly law in Big Tech, especially with international companies. The most famous victim of their scrutiny, Alphabet, is a dominant force not only in the tech industry, but in making the industry harder than others to regulate. The accrual of a massive amount of data and the ability to use it, an inevitable, natural consequence of growth in the web sector, often dubbed “Big Data”, is not a criminal act in and of itself. It does, however, present barriers of entry to smaller incumbents. The way that these barriers are erected boils down to human psychology. With search engines, for example, if results aren’t up to par, people are statistically more likely to keep scrolling through pages of results than to switch search engines. This simply gives the search engine in question, more often than not Google, more opportunities to advertise and more data on the user.
Likewise, in other Big Data applications, the hassle of switching services is often seen by the user as less than simply working it out with the current service. The souring public opinion of Facebook in the face of record growth and the stagnation of rival networks is just one example of this phenomena at work. Adding to the issue, most users go where their friends are, causing hard-to-budge local networks clinging to services that are inefficient or even irrelevant.
As you can see, the nature of Big Data makes the jobs of people like Ariel Ezrachi and David Evans pretty hard. The pair were invited recently to present evidence before the House of Lords’ EU Internal Market Sub Committee concerning Big Data in General and Google in particular. Parliament’s devotion to the eradication of anti competitive behavior is a boon for the consumer, to be sure, but it can make them seem as though they’re targeting bigger businesses. In this case, however, their focus on Google may be justified. With Google pushing Chrome and Android hard, as well as paying a cool billion to be the default search engine for iOS, it’s not hard to see how they’re taking advantage of the reluctance to switch shown by users who become acquainted with a product.
In the end, Parliament and the House of Lords will have to prove that Google’s behavior is theoretically responsible for a decline in quality of services or barring competition, or both. In Google’s home country, antitrust regulators have rarely set sights on them. Some analysts have pointed out that it can’t be mere coincidence that former Googlers keep winding up in high places, such as the federal policy making or commercial regulation. Amazon has come under fire for similar reasons. Many Google fans say that they are being targeted unfairly by the EU, but evidence continues to mount that there may be cause for concern after all.