Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Solving 'the Google problem' key to ensuring the Internet's success

By Andrew Keen, special for CNN
December 6, 2012 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. and EU regulators met in Brussels this week to discuss "the Google problem"
  • They were considering whether its dominance of the search market may be illegal
  • Keen says they need to decide soon whether to pursue anti-trust lawsuits
  • He says it is important to ensure entrepreneurial innovation is allowed to flourish

Editor's note: LeWeb is Europe's biggest tech conference, in Paris from December 4 to 6. CNN will be reporting live from the ground. Andrew Keen is a British-American entrepreneur, professional skeptic and the author of "The Cult of the Amateur" and "Digital Vertigo." Follow Andrew Keen on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Many of Europe's leading tech entrepreneurs are meeting at the annual LeWeb conference in Paris this week to celebrate the future - an "Internet of things" governed by intelligent devices.

But, rather than Paris, the most consequential European meeting about the future of the Internet this week may have taken place in Brussels on Monday.

In contrast with the radically transparent networking culture that characterizes LeWeb, the Brussels event was a meeting between two powerful bureaucrats that took place, like all meetings between powerful bureaucrats, behind closed doors.

Andrew Keen
Andrew Keen

Jon Leibowitz, the Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) met with Joaquin Almunia, the vice-president of the European Commission to discuss Google - the dominant company on today's Internet. Specifically, they were meeting to discuss potential FTC and EU anti-trust lawsuits against the tech giant, in an attempt to resolve the Google problem.

It's a very simple problem. The future may, indeed, have arrived on the Internet. But rather than being run by intelligent devices, it's unfortunately being run more and more by a single company -- Google, which controls over 90% of the search market in several European countries. And the problem, as both the FTC and the commission recognize, is that this dominance may, in part, be illegal.

Google has been accused in both Europe and the United States of using its dominant position in search to unfairly promote its own products and services -- from travel and shopping comparison engines to advertising and mapping.

These accusations have been well documented and extend from successful American internet companies such as Yelp, Expedia and Nextag to European start-ups like eJustice.fr and Foundem.

At a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Almunia confirmed that the commission was working "intensively" on its probe of Google. Meanwhile, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt, in a characteristically pugnacious message to Almunia and Leibowitz, told the Wall Street Journal that "it's time for them to sort of move to one resolution or another. It's not like they don't have a million documents and so forth."

Schmidt is right. Given the speed of technological change, it's time for both the commission and the FTC to decide whether or not to bring their anti-trust lawsuits against Google. The longer both Almunia and Leibowitz wait, the more powerful Google becomes, and the more indecisive and laggardly the regulators appear.

An Internet of things must be a place of all of our things, not just Google's things
Andrew Keen

Time is, indeed, of the essence. As the future arrives on all our devices and "the Internet of things" becomes a reality, it is essential that this Google problem, which is undermining entrepreneurial innovation, is resolved.

An Internet of things must be a place of all of our things, not just Google's things. And as Google products such as its self-driving cars and data goggles pioneer this brave new world of intelligent devices, it is essential that the FTC and the commission guarantee that the ubiquitous Google search engine doesn't degenerate into a platform for this increasingly powerful company to hawk its own intelligent products and services.

Google's Eric Schmidt spoke at Le Web last year. "This particular conference is one of the best venues for new entrepreneurs in Europe," he said, rightly, of Europe's largest Internet event.

But for future entrepreneurs really to be able to innovate, we need fair search which doesn't prioritize the products and services of Google itself.

We are thus relying on Leibowitz and Almunia. Let's hope they can make a decision on whether to move ahead with their anti-trust cases by the end of the year. Let's hope they can solve the Google problem.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew Keen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Andrew Keen says we are metaphorically with Snowden, as we embrace more and more devices that monitor all our daily activites.
February 26, 2013 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Wearing spectacles that record our every move could be the end of privacy as we know it, says internet commentator Andrew Keen.
November 27, 2012 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
Much has been written about the Twitterfication of the Gaza war. But there's a much more significant war taking place right now on Twitter.
September 24, 2012 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Like all online businesses, the marketing industry is being radically changed by the creeping ubiquity of mobile devices.
December 6, 2012 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
Leading tech entrepreneurs are meeting at the Le Web conference to celebrate the future - an "internet of things" governed by intelligent devices.
November 27, 2012 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
A war is taking place about freedom of speech in our new reputation economy; a war about what we legally can and cannot say on Twitter.
May 14, 2012 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
By 2023, hideously powerful technology companies like the Weyland Corporation will rule the world. At least that's the storyline in "Prometheus."
April 10, 2012 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Do we fear governmental abuse of our online data as much as abuse from private companies?
March 30, 2012 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Social networking site Google + was launched last year as the internet giant tries to keep up with Facebook.
Is Google's remarkable dominance of the internet economy now under threat?
March 14, 2012 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
A local organization hosts a screening of
Should we really be empowering children to make moral decisions about a world in which they have little experience?
February 28, 2012 -- Updated 1031 GMT (1831 HKT)
With our increasing addiction to our mobile phones, we are in danger of creating a monster that we are less and less able to control.
March 6, 2012 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
An uprising in Russia appears unlikely after presidential elections reestablished the primacy of the old regime, argues Andrew Keen
February 21, 2012 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
There's a trillion dollar virus that spreading throughout Silicon Valley called social networking that feeds on our most intimate data.
February 3, 2012 -- Updated 1051 GMT (1851 HKT)
As Facebook prepares its billion-dollar IPO the question is whether it can make the world a better place for it s close to a billion users.
January 25, 2012 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Just as oil shaped the 20th century economy, so the politics of data will shape the 21st century digital economy, says Andrew Keen.
Our politics may not be the catastrophe-bound Titanic but they are wrecked on shallow ground, unable to move, says Andrew Keen.
December 23, 2011 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
The role of employment in society will increasingly shape our attitude toward technology over the next year, says Andrew Keen.
January 13, 2012 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Andrew Keen says the future of the Consumer Electronics Show is online, not at trade shows where delegates spend too much time standing in line.
December 13, 2011 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
The future of Russia may be determined by the very digital critics which its current leadership seeks to deride, argues Andrew Keen.
ADVERTISEMENT