Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) looks like it may become a whipping boy for Europe over the distrust sewn by the NSA spy scandals of the last year and a half. In February, the terms of a settlement between Europe and Google were announced that saw massive opposition and outcry.
The European Commission, according to someone close to the matter, is likely to have a fresh look at those terms and could come after the EU’s current competition chief steps down in November.
Google’s scrutiny not limited to just search
But the company may also see additional scrutiny with regards to data privacy, copyright matters, and corporate taxes as well given the company being a tech giant that just happens to be located in the United States despite its truly global reach.
“The NSA scandal is a factor,” said one antitrust lawyer involved in the Google case. “U.S. companies are innocent but they have somehow become the poster children for this.”
EU competition chief Joaquín Almunia has repeatedly said that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) is now in compliance but it’s looking more and more probable that the settlement may be looked into for a FOURTH time.
“There has never been a case where there’s been so much toing and froing over commitments and upgrades,” said Alec Burnside, an antitrust lawyer at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in Brussels who represents a consortium of Google’s complainants. “It is unprecedented Google should require so many repeat bites at the apple.”
In addition to the search settlement, it looks more and more likely that a formal investigation may be launched with regards to Google’s Android operating system and its preferential treatment of the company beyond the search page on mobile.
A spokesman for Google referred to previous comments that the company has made “significant changes to address the Commission’s concerns, greatly increasing the visibility of rival services and addressing other specific issues.”
France and Germany leading the way
France has suggested that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) and other large tech companies be classified as public utilities, while Germany’s Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel has gone so far as to suggest that Google needs to be broken apart.
“Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s conduct calls for strong action in a broad number of policy areas, such as taxation, data privacy, copyright and trademark protection, and net neutrality,” Mr. Almunia wrote, according to a copy of the letter seen by The Wall Street Journal.
“But this must be done with the appropriate policy instruments. A single competition case cannot by itself address issues that go beyond the scope of competition law by their very nature.”
Thanks to the Snowden NSA revelations, it looks as though Google could be in for a long winter on a number of fronts.