B is for Brussels: Google's corporate rejig WON'T insulate firm against antitrust probes

Alphabet Show is diddly-squat to Commish. For now

Brussels confirmed late on Tuesday that Google's radical corporate shape-shifting that spawned parent company Alphabet would not "insulate" the Chocolate Factory from the EU's competition probes.

The European Commission's competition spokesman Ricardo Cardoso told The Register:

We have seen press reports that Google is carrying out a corporate restructuring. Google itself explained that it’s changing its structure to better run its different businesses. As far as the Commission is aware, there is no link to our competition investigations.

In general, the Commission will always carry out its competition enforcement duties independently of the precise corporate structure of the companies under investigation. A company does not insulate itself from a competition investigation through a change in corporate structure.

One of the most persistent questions nagging commentators since Google announced its big changes has been how the new set-up will impact on the Chocolate Factory’s EU anti-trust case.

Google was accused by the European Commission of giving preference to its own services, scraping news sites and imposing anti-competitive terms on advertisers. The latter two activities were resolved early on in the negotiations, which have rumbled on for more than five years. However the issues of search and promotion of Google’s own services have proved trickier to solve.

In essence, the new Alphabet set-up won’t affect the competition case, since the investigation stemmed from historical complaints. However many have speculated that Google may have one eye on possible sanctions.

In July, the EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager sent a redacted version of the charges against the world's biggest broker to Google’s rivals. The so-called Statement of Objections sets out the Commission’s case against Google and is the first step on the road to possible punitive measures – including potential divestiture orders and a possible fine of up to 10 per cent of global turnover.

Google has until 17 August to complete its defence, leading many to speculate that the surprise Alphabet news may be part of this strategy. In his blog post announcement, Google supremo and newly minted Alphabet CEO, Larry Page, said “this newer Google is a bit slimmed down”. However, aside from a few “out there” projects such as Wing and Calico, Page didn’t elaborate on which bits of fat Google would be shedding.

That is relevant for the anti-trust case, because splitting off search from Google’s Shopping service, for example, would go a long way to allaying Vestager’s competition concerns. Guillermo Beltrà, legal head at European consumer organisation, BEUC, said on Twitter that although an interesting move, with core web services – including search – still operating under the same business division, there was no real separation.

But unbundling search is something the European Parliament would also like to see.

Last November, two MEPs – Andreas Schwab and Ramon Tremosa – were behind a bizarre vote to “break up Google”. Although it didn’t mention Google by name, the proposal to unbundle search engines from other services, was clearly targeted at the current Chocolate Factory case. "We're just pointing out that there are tools the Commission can use," said Schwab at the time. Despite having no authority to dictate punishment, the Parliament passed the resolution by 458 to 173.

Next page: Time to split?

Other stories you might like

  • Meet Wizard Spider, the multimillion-dollar gang behind Conti, Ryuk malware
    Russia-linked crime-as-a-service crew is rich, professional – and investing in R&D

    Analysis Wizard Spider, the Russia-linked crew behind high-profile malware Conti, Ryuk and Trickbot, has grown over the past five years into a multimillion-dollar organization that has built a corporate-like operating model, a year-long study has found.

    In a technical report this week, the folks at Prodaft, which has been tracking the cybercrime gang since 2021, outlined its own findings on Wizard Spider, supplemented by info that leaked about the Conti operation in February after the crooks publicly sided with Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

    What Prodaft found was a gang sitting on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars funneled from multiple sophisticated malware variants. Wizard Spider, we're told, runs as a business with a complex network of subgroups and teams that target specific types of software, and has associations with other well-known miscreants, including those behind REvil and Qbot (also known as Qakbot or Pinkslipbot).

    Continue reading
  • Supreme Court urged to halt 'unconstitutional' Texas content-no-moderation law
    Everyone's entitled to a viewpoint but what's your viewpoint on what exactly is and isn't a viewpoint?

    A coalition of advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the US Supreme Court to block Texas' social media law HB 20 after the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted a preliminary injunction that had kept it from taking effect.

    The Lone Star State law, which forbids large social media platforms from moderating content that's "lawful-but-awful," as advocacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it, was approved last September by Governor Greg Abbott (R). It was immediately challenged in court and the judge hearing the case imposed a preliminary injunction, preventing the legislation from being enforced, on the basis that the trade groups opposing it – NetChoice and CCIA – were likely to prevail.

    But that injunction was lifted on appeal. That case continues to be litigated, but thanks to the Fifth Circuit, HB 20 can be enforced even as its constitutionality remains in dispute.

    Continue reading
  • How these crooks backdoor online shops and siphon victims' credit card info
    FBI and co blow lid off latest PHP tampering scam

    The FBI and its friends have warned businesses of crooks scraping people's credit-card details from tampered payment pages on compromised websites.

    It's an age-old problem: someone breaks into your online store and alters the code so that as your customers enter their info, copies of their data is siphoned to fraudsters to exploit. The Feds this week have detailed one such effort that reared its head lately.

    As early as September 2020, we're told, miscreants compromised at least one American company's vulnerable website from three IP addresses: 80[.]249.207.19, 80[.]82.64.211 and 80[.]249.206.197. The intruders modified the web script TempOrders.php in an attempt to inject malicious code into the checkout.php page.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022