“Hasta la vista” Google says to Spain and now Europe is next?

Google News. Spanish version not any more available.

Google News. Spanish version not any more available.

“But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.”

And so it happened. As of yesterday, if you are a Spanish citizen or learner or nostalgist of the richness of this Iberic language, your Google news stored homepage will not be in Spanish any more and probably will never be again. The Internet giant yesterday, as promised last week, closed down its Google News Spanish version, once and for all. Does it sound weird or absurd to you, liberal Internet passionate surfer or unconditional search engine enthusiast? Wait until you hear about the new “Google Tax” in the country of sangria.

The Spanish lawmaker announced that in January 2015 a new bill on Intellectual Property (IP) will be passed in Madrid. According to that free usage of snippets and excerpts of online media websites by Google News will be regarded as IP infringement. Therefore Google will be obliged to pay publishers, or copyright holders, to source that information. Although the exact amount to be paid for the new “Google tax” is yet to be defined after Christmas holidays, there is allegedly an upper threshold of 600,000 euros. Not exactly peanuts as one can understand if she multiplies it by the number of Spanish news sources that have applied themselves for the Google News ‘ticket to readership’.

Spanish media ask for money

This unprecedented, for the – used to be high – European Internet standards, search engine bill has been heavily promoted by the Spanish Association of Daily Newspaper Publishers (AEDE). Spanish traditional media, a strong power in the Spanish political system, have been lobbying for this “Google tax” for quite some time now and they seemed very happy with the successful result. “Given Google’s dominant position, AEDE is requesting that Spanish and EU authorities, as well as anti-trust authorities, intervene to protect the rights of citizens and companies,” AEDE said.

So, basically, Spanish online media decided to grow their business by making the government ask from a news aggregator to pay them “royalty fees”. While the above sentence sounds like a scene from a science fiction movie where Earth is populated by cyborgs and managed by apes, one has to admit that reality sometime surpasses imagination in Europe.

Of course, when the news came out, that Google news is leaving Spain, the Spanish media association must have thought: “Dios mio! Que hicimos?”. AEDE then, in fear of a complete Google shutdown in Spain, rushed to save the Spanish Internet from a complete meltdown. Particularly, AEDE’s Irene Lanzaco stated: “We’re not asking Google to take a step backwards, we’ve always been open to negotiations with Google”…“Google has not taken a neutral stance”. “Of course they are free to close their business, but one thing is the closure of Google News and quite another the positioning in the general index.”

So, as of yesterday the Spanish user will not be able use the Google News aggregator any more to have a wide or customised compilation of news sources on her screen. Instead she has to browse separately through each Spanish online newspaper. Or, as Google has not erased tracking of Spanish sources in google.com, to browse through the general search service. So, no more benefit and user-friendliness by the use of Google News, a news aggregator that maintains some 80% of the European search market and is available in over 70 international editions and in 35 languages. Well, 35-1 as of yesterday.]

The anti-Google dogma

The biggest worry of Google and any search engine or Internet neutrality enthusiast is that the Spanish case will be reproduced in other member states and, why not, in an EU level. Let’s all remember here that the “right to be forgotten” thriller began also from Spain itself and the Spanish Mario Costeja González who did not want some information regarding him to show in the American search engine. The issue escalated dramatically after the European Court of Justice’s decision to give right to the Spaniard. Hundreds of thousands of “to be forgotten” claims have reached Google’s mailbox since last summer.

Moreover, just recently some guidelines were given on how Google to study, assess and decide on the “right to be forgotten” claims that have received a lot of criticism. Last, it was only a couple of weeks ago that the European Parliament voted in favour the “break-up” of Google, segregated between search and advertising service. Most importantly they called on the European Commission to take up immediately the matter that had been lingering for some 4 years under Almunia’s responsibility. Mrs Margrethe Vestager, the new Commissioner for Competition has been urged and lobbied to ‘fight’ against the ‘Google monopoly’ that captivates some 90% of the European search queries on the Web.

All in all, while Spain seems to be the source of troublemaking for Google, this is not the complete truth. There is a general anti-Google sentiment in the Old Continent originated by media and politics; usually those two go more than often hand by hand.

A much needed balanced approach

Since there are so many issues in the air simultaneously now, there are a couple of things to be straightened here. First, the Google antitrust case, according to which the American company is exploiting its leading role in the market to form a monopoly, should be judged only by the European Commission and nobody else. Second, the right to be forgotten, if not controlled and properly looked after, like these guidelines that came out 6 months late after the ECJ’s decision, then Internet/search engine neutrality and freedom of speech campaigners will have too much work to do in Brussels and beyond in the following months. Third, media should be looking at ways to originally develop and grow rather than asking the politicians to make search engines pay royalties.

Even if Google is indeed found guilty of exploiting its leading position in the market, it will be asked to pay for the damage and it will probably do so, like Microsoft did a few years ago. But somehow this exorbitant multifaceted attack does not seem too justified at this point. A balanced approach needs to be kept, weighing also what Google has brought and brings to the European Internet and economy.

If the latter is not applied, then Google will say “Hasta la Vista” to Europe as a whole soon, as did in the past with other markets where censorship was excessive.

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