- 17 Mar 09, 12:07 GMT
Is Google bad for the web? A question which would have been unthinkable a year or so back. But, in some people's views, the search giant is heading down the path from cheeky and popular internet upstart to over-bearing bully.
For those who advance this case, the charge sheet is getting longer by the day - Google is not only too dominant in both search and online advertising, it is moving into all sorts of other areas too. Last week alone, three announcements stirred the wrath of critics who seem to be growing in confidence.
First, there was the row with the PRS over the licensing of songs for YouTube, with Google raising the stakes by blocking access to all professional music videos on YouTube.
Sure, there were many who thought the songwriters were in the wrong, trying to extract a hefty fee rather than just seeing YouTube as a useful platform. But there was also a vocal(?!) group who saw this as the latest example of bullying by a giant firm eager to profit from other people's content without paying them a fair share.
Then there was the plan to introduce behavioural advertising to Google - or rather what the firm described as an "interest-based advertising beta". The scheme to give users adverts that reflected their interests, based on data Google collects about our web habits, caused plenty of disquiet amongst privacy campaigners. EU regulators, who've already been asking questions about Google's data retention policy, may take a close look at this scheme.
Finally, there was the announcement about Google Voice, which sounds like a useful service giving you one central phone number, and translating voicemail messages into text. But that could wipe out a number of promising start-ups - and is seen by critics as more evidence that Google is just getting too powerful, and hence is now damaging the web and web users.
Among those pressing this case most vigorously is an organisation called ICOMP. I called them yesterday while researching a story about the long legal battle between Google and the luxury goods firm LVMH over the auctioning of terms like "Louis Vuitton" for advertising purposes. David Wood, a Brussels-based lawyer who speaks for ICOMP, told me:
"The concern is that as Google's market power grows, brand owners will have nobody else to deal with. It will also install bad practices in the market - so anybody else coming in will find it difficult to compete against the market leader and its bad practices."
But no sooner had I got off the phone to Mr Wood than a call came in from someone who had some interesting information about ICOMP and who described it as "a Microsoft front". The lobby group's website says it was founded by a number of firms who "have come together to express a shared commitment to a Transparent and Competitive Internet that is responsive to consumer interests and law-abiding".
The site isn't exactly transparent about ICOMP's funding, though it does list Microsoft as a member. But when I got back to Mr Wood, he confirmed that the organisation was "largely" funded by the software giant - Google's biggest rival.
That doesn't mean that the regulators will ignore the ever-louder grumbles about Google from web rivals and privacy campaigners, but there's a delicious irony in the charge being led by Microsoft, the company which has itself been in the sights of EU competition officials for at least a decade.
Google's millions of users probably aren't too worried by any of this - after all, they are getting more and more from the business for nothing more than their willingness to see some advertising. Then again, Windows users had precious few complaints about the power of Microsoft - but the regulators took the view that it was in everyone's long-term interest to clip the wings of Bill Gates' business.
Will history repeat itself?
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