Google’s bare truth: Europe’s Chief denies EU accusations but admits they “don’t always get it right”

Matt_Brittin_

Matt Brittin is Google’s new chief for Europe (Wikimedia)

When back in April the European Commission formally filed a complaint against Google it was clear that the action could have turned the page of the whole “EU vs Google” case. But after the tech giant responded and set out the initial arguments against the Commission’s findings, almost immediately, no further discussion about the thorny matter followed. Until now.

“We don’t always get it right”

Google’s chief executive for Europe Matt Brittin gave the company’s first public statement on the EU antitrust case last week, and his words were very clear. “We don’t always get it right”. “As far as Europe is concerned: we get it. We understand that people here are not the same in their attitudes to everything as people in America”, Brittin revealed to Politico newspaper in an interview published last Thursday.

A failure in communication

What Mr. Brittin basically acknowledged was that Google and its people had failed to explain its business and vision to policymakers in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. This kind of recognition, which basically tells that Google, probably one of the most innovative companies in the world, failed in communication, is a big deal on its own. Google’s executive openly stressed that Google should better explain how it benefits Europe’s economy, culture and small enterprises, and admitted that something went very wrong in the past.

He also conceded that Google was short on staff in Europe, and so it failed to understand on time Europe’s position and objections. “We just didn’t have the people on the ground to be able to have some of those conversations as we grew”, he said during last week’s interview. How pragmatic is that?

Google’s lifting

Matt Brittin’s appointment as Google’s European President, a new position created to unify Google’s operations here in the Old Continent, tells how the Mountain View, California-based company is now trying to adjust its public image. Google is trying to re-shape the strong “American-rooted Silicon Valley image” that still has here in Europe, which basically represents a risk for the company’s plan – and might be worth billions.

The risk is that, if Google will not adjust its mindset in Europe to be more aware of the differences between the European and the American markets, to rephrase what Mr. Brittin says, the history of legal cases between the EU and the tech giant could become even longer.

Risks and opportunities

Brittin said Google should better explain how it benefits Europe. He also explained that a lot of time is now being spent trying to better explain the company’s business and vision to policymakers in Brussels and how it “benefits Europe’s economy, culture and small enterprises”.

That is exactly how his role as president for Europe reflects this strong will of reform. Freshly appointed Brittin, a former publishing executive, which was chosen after eight years in the company, is clearly trying to take a much more diplomatic approach to solve the controversy in Europe and possibly find a positive equilibrium with the EU.

A firm denial

But despite this new vision, Google’s European CEO obviously found the chance to dismiss the European Commission’s charges, of course. Mr. Brittin stressed Google’s disagreement with the accusations, repeating that, with the boom of mobile devices, the American search engine is not nearly as dominant as it used to be in the past. “There is no evidence that consumers have been harmed here, and actually no evidence that complainants have been harmed,” he said. He was also quick to point out that many of the complainants “are US companies or backed by US companies”.

Obsolete accusations

Mr. Brittin said during the interview how he believes the European Commission’s accusations are basically out of date, as the mobile ecosystem is quickly shifting. “Over that five-year period the world’s changed, right; we’ve all got the entire internet in our pocket,” he said. “There is a big shift in how we’re accessing information and I think there has never been a more competitive time than this in terms of the choices that consumers have”, he added.

Google, which dominates the European search market holding a desktop search share of more than 91%, has been accused of several different anticompetitive practices in Europe over the past five years. Claims include that Google has been abusing its monopoly to gain leverage in the European market and displaying its services more prominently than competitive ones.

Matt Brittin declared that, while the search engine disagrees with the accusations, it remains open to a settlement agreement with the EU. The European Sting will keep monitoring the question closely.

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