Everyone Is Gunning For Google

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From executives being charged for privacy violations, to complaints from Microsoft-supported entities in Brussels and Google’s joust with China, Google is facing adversity on many fronts

When you’re the hottest team in town, everyone is gunning for you. No, we’re not talking about Major League Baseball’s defending world champion New York Yankees, even as we look forward to the 2010 baseball season.

We’re talking about Google. Through the first two months of 2010, Google is fending off assaults on its castle walls from all angles. The search engine, whose 80 percent worldwide market share (65 percent in the United States) often seems unassailable, is being rocked by a variety of adversaries.

Let’s start with this week and work backwards.

The Italian Job

On 24 February, an Italian court convicted three Google executives of violating privacy laws.

The depressing thing about that case is that it represents an attack on the Internet more than anything else, setting a dangerous precedent that search engines such as Google are content providers susceptible to regulation.

Should Google monitor every piece of content its algorithms alight on? That is the question. Most people believe Google is in the right even as they argue not every control-the-web case is so ridiculously myopic.

The Hustle in Brussels

On 23 February, we learned three Internet companies filed complaints with the Brussels-based European Commission alleging that the search engine is demoting their websites in Google search results and not respecting fair competition. The EC, the antitrust watchdog of the European Union, agreed to look into the matter.

Google intimated this whole affair reeks of Microsoft and we agree. The great irony is that it may portend that Europe sees Google as the new Microsoft. John Briggs, a partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider who has worked on antitrust, competition and intellectual-property cases, told the Wall Street Journal: “Google seems to be this century’s — or this decade’s — new favorite antitrust target.”

Xerox Says Google Copied Its Technology

On 19 February, printer and copier maker Xerox sued Google and Yahoo for patent infringement.

Xerox alleged Google’s AdWords and AdSense violate a 2004 patent on a “system for automatically generating queries,” while Google Maps and Google Video gouge a 2001 patent on a “method and apparatus for the integration of information and knowledge.”

Xerox should not expect an easy resolution in these matters. Google and Yahoo own myriad patents and it’s likely that they have patented technologies that are similar to the Xerox patents. But it’s another sign of how Google is being targeted for successfully leveraging its web services.

Google Book Search in Limbo

On 18 February, New York District Court Judge Denny Chin heard nearly 30 pleas from opponents and proponents of the Google Book Search deal without issuing a ruling, let alone tipping his hand as to which direction he was leaning.

We don’t know when Chin will write and release an opinion, but all that means is that Google Book Search, the company’s plan to digitise millions of out-of-print works is in a holding pattern until China rules. He could ask Google to revise the proposal, which would set the project back several months.

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