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@GTP_Updates Demonstrates Google’s European Influence Campaign

January 22, 2019 Comments off

@artistrights tweeted in reaction to the stalled Article 13 legislation in Europe “American multinational corporations impose their commercial imperialism over their vassal states. Not the Europe we love.”

There probably has never been as revealing an insight into Google’s short, loathsome and treacherous lifespan as the Article 13 legislative process in the European Parliament.  It has put a microscope on Google’s fake lobbying campaign, but it also shows the extent of Google’s influence peddling to protect its profits from the European version of what we call the DMCA safe harbor.

Beyond the vile messaging of YouTube’s chief child exploiter Susan Wojcicki, Google has been investing in European academics for a decade.  Thanks to the Google Transparency Project, we know considerable detail about the extent of that investment.

Google has spent millions of euros funding European academics to write papers on digital policy, bankrolling university institutes and think-tanks in London, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Warsaw

Over the past decade, Google has invested heavily in European academic institutions to develop an influential network of friendly academics, paying tens of millions of euros to think tanks, universities and professors that write research papers supporting its business interests.

Those academics and institutions span the length and breadth of Europe, from countries with major influence in European Union policymaking, such as Germany and France, to Eastern European nations like Poland….

For example, Google has paid at least €9 million to help set up the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The new group launched in 2011, after German policymakers voiced growing concerns over Google’s accumulated power.

The Institute has so far published more than 240 scholarly papers on internet policy issues, many on issues of central importance to Google’s bottom line. HIIG also runs a Google-funded journal, with which several Google-funded scholars are affiliated, to publish such research….

And in Poland, Google has funded the Digital Economy Lab (DELab) at the University of Warsaw, similarly described as an interdisciplinary institute that will research and design policies governing technology issues. Second, Google has created and endowed chairs at higher-learning institutions in European countries including France, Spain, Belgium, and Poland. Those chairs have often been occupied by academics with a track record of producing research that closely aligns with Google’s policy priorities….

Europe’s importance for Google cannot be overstated. It is both a key market, with usage rates above 80 percent in many countries, and the most organized source of opposition to its expansion plans. The European Commission is arguably the only regulator beyond the U.S. with sufficient clout to cause Google to alter its conduct. European officials have levied billions of dollars in fines for antitrust violations and have enacted some of the most stringent laws in the world to protect consumer privacy.

Strangely enough–sarcasm alert–the countries where Google has made its most significant purchase of academic mind share are also the countries where opposition to Article 13 seems the greatest, especially Poland.

But the larger point is that there should be no doubt in the mind of any artist anywhere in the world that Google and its fellow travelers are not your friends, never were and never will be.  This includes the Digital Media Association, the Internet Association and the MIC Coalition.

Read the report here.

 

@GTP_Updates: White House Kept Close Tabs on FTC Google Antitrust Probe — Artist Rights Watch

August 17, 2016 Comments off
david_edelman_final

White House Internet Advisor R. David Edelman

Newly-uncovered emails show the White House was closely tracking the outcome of the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust probe of Google, with an official contacting Google’s lobbyist shortly before the agency’s decision to settle the case.

via @GTP_Updates: White House Kept Close Tabs on FTC Google Antitrust Probe — Artist Rights Watch

Google’s Uncertain Trumpet: Why is YouTube still hidden in the search alphabet?

August 13, 2015 2 comments

You’ve no doubt heard that Google has rearranged the deck chairs to reorganize the company.  The general idea is that Google is establishing a holding company titled “Alphabet”–please resist the urge to point out that Google now owns the alphabet.  What underlies the restructuring is that Google has essentially succeeded in its initial business play to organize the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.  Now Google is setting about commoditizing all of it.  Not just music, books, movies, television programming.

All of it.

With the European Commission breathing down their necks in what appears to be a vigorous antitrust indictment, one can’t help noticing that breaking up Google will be that much simpler after the Alphabet reorganization than before.  So while the spin that Google is putting on the reorganization is that of confidently going a new direction into the future, there may actually be greater uncertainty about the future at Google than ever before.

It’s an odd coincidence that Google is announcing the Alphabet reorganization at the same time as they are seeking a delay in responding to the EC’s antitrust indictment.  Jamie Gorelick can’t help them with this one apparently.

As Re/Code’s insightful journalist Kara Swisher said on Charlie Rose’s show:

You will hear Google saying — the most powerful and sometimes frightening company on the planet — saying oh, we`re just a startup. And so it`s kind of perplexing at the same time… they want to be young and so this maybe gives them a little youth and innovation….I think that it`s just another way to state what they were already doing and it makes for great headlines and then we can all make Alphabet jokes and things like that. But in general, it`s just a statement of what they were doing before.

What Google is essentially accomplishing is moving its riskier business lines under separate managers under the new Alphabet holding company but is leaving search, Android and YouTube in Google.  (It remains to be seen exactly how this will all work as a matter of corporate formality, not to mention that pesky shareholder voting business.  Since the Google insiders have 10 times the voting power of folks like you and me–to the extent ordinary shareholders get a vote at all–we can be pretty confident that when the dust settles, the insiders will still be in control.  If not more so.)

One also can’t help noticing that the European Commission is currently prosecuting Google for antitrust violations in search, is investigating Android for potential antitrust violations and also has a complaint against YouTube pending from IMPALA (the European indie label association).  Pure coincidence, I’m sure.

While we can speculate on these high level machinations, we have much more mundane aspirations.  I’m watching Google reorganize our money and thinking about what all this means for YouTube.

What About YouTube?

So why is YouTube still combined with search?  We don’t know the exact reason because no one is talking (yet).  This is Google after all.  One way to think about this is that YouTube is simply a format based version of search that extends Google’s monopoly power over the video vertical subsidized by Google’s monopoly rents from search.  As we have learned from various investigations and experience, Google clearly favors its own products in search, so it’s not surprising to see YouTube results at the top.

As Matthew Ingram observed in a thoughtful article in Fortune:

Since both YouTube and Google are involved in search (if you see YouTube primarily as a vertical search engine devoted to video) and both depend on advertising for the bulk of their revenues, it arguably makes sense to have them part of the same company, where they can share resources. The flaw in this theory is that YouTube wants to be much more than just a search engine, and real investment in video and the creative economy requires very different skills….A couple of ex-Googlers speculated that YouTube may not have been broken out as a separate unit because Google’s revenues and growth rate are flattening, and therefore it needs to keep all of that YouTube cash and growth inside the search company until it can figure out how to grow faster through mobile and other means. Once that transition has been made successfully, then YouTube can be spun out.

What this may mean for Margrethe Vestager the European Commission’s antitrust regulator is that any prosecution of Google for search must necessarily include YouTube.  We’ll see what the future may hold on that score.

But what this means today for artists and songwriters is that we need to be much tougher on YouTube in royalty negotiations.  Music is a huge part of YouTube’s success and revenues.  Morgan Stanley produced this chart after some green eyeshade working over of Google’s publicly disclosed revenues in an effort to break out YouTube’s contribution to revenue (which neither Google nor YouTube provide directly).  Morgan Stanley thinks YouTube’s revenue is growing 38% year over year.  You know–that revenue we’re supposedly sharing in.  I’m sure your YouTube royalties are growing at the same rate.

In fairness, these numbers are estimates of YouTube gross revenues and does not take into account YouTube’s operating costs.  However–when a “startup” is booking $6 billion, we are well past the point that we should feel we need to cut them a break on royalties.  As Kara Swisher noted, Google’s “we’re just a startup” smokescreen is a bit hard to take.

The Alphabet reorganization is further confirmation that YouTube is a mature business and should be treated as such.

I’m Ready as Anybody Can Be

Here’s the reality:  This business of taking a mysteriously calculated revenue share is bullshit.  The idea that a $6 billion company is paying a royalty that requires a scientific calculator to determine is madness.  The whole YouTube royalty structure has to go.  Do we say to CBS, well pay us a part of what you get and if you decide to sell low that’s OK.  If you decide that some uses of our music aren’t going to be “monetized” (a vile concept), hey, that’s up to you.

No we don’t do that.  We say here’s the price, pay it or don’t use the music.

If YouTube wants to get a license for the premium music videos then guess what?  Drop the sham positioning on DMCA safe harbor.  Why on earth should they get both?  If they want to be in business with artists and songwriters, then act like it.  And if you consider that video search is just branded search under a different name, then why should Google get to hide behind the sham safe harbor at all, particularly now that they’ve told the world that YouTube and search go together.

It’s also nearly impossible to determine whether we’re being paid correctly as upstream royalty compliance is essentially blocked by Google and wrapped in NDAs.  This is a petrie dish for fraud on a massive scale that would make Morris Levy blush and someone needs to investigate it–like Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is trying to do while being sued by Google at the same time.

It’s time to stand up and be counted on these issues.

You’ve Got to Stand for Something or You’ll Fall For Anything

This is not going to be easy.  Somehow we have gotten into business with the most litigious company on the planet that is running an Enron-level laundry inside the darkest of all black boxes.  YouTube has somehow gotten our marketing folk believing that somehow they need YouTube to market artists.

This assumption needs to be tested.  Taylor Swift has already done a great job of showing us all that YouTube needs hits and hits don’t need YouTube.  The Man 2.0 behind the curtain did not dig that at all. My bet is that it’s about to start happening a lot more frequently.  It’s really very simple–we just need to get it in our job descriptions that hits still need to happen and if we can’t use YouTube to our advantage we will not allow YouTube to use us to theirs.

The Alphabet reorganization should be plenty of proof that YouTube is not a music video service–it’s a search vertical and a data honey pot that is skinned to look like a music operation.  And it books a fortune.

It’s time to get serious.  Google has shown that they are very serious and we should be, too.

Wouldn’t you like your royalties to be growing 38% year over year?

Google to EU: Hey idiot! We’ll tell you just how dominant we really are and you’ll like it

October 10, 2012 Comments off

Adult bullies are in a special class–they were born that way and stayed that way, and they have been practicing how to get away with it for years.  And then one day–they become rich and powerful.  And some of them are called Google.  (See the Eric Schmidt’s description of the monopolistic tech oligarchy or “Gang of Four” cartel in conversation with AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.)

What is common to all of these adult bullies?  They are accustomed to getting away with it.  And for all of its benefits and “innovation” what Google is really best at is getting away with it.

Getting Away With Ethics Problems:  Google got away with having their former worldwide head of lobbying Andrew McLaughlin planted in the Obama White House while getting messages from Google lobbyist Markham Erickson that pretty clearly violated lobbying and White House ethics rules.  This one was about a meeting that Erickson had with IPEC Victoria Espinel that apparently didn’t go to his liking:

Andrew McLaughlin was allowed to exit quietly, and Markham Erickson is now the head of the American Bar Association’s technology law committee.  Gee, how would we ever know whose side he’s on?

Getting Away With Illegal Drugs:

Google advertised illegal drugs in search from the beginning of the company until last year when Google executives authorized using the stockholders’ money for the payment of a $500,000,000 fine to keep from being personally indicted.  Google board members and executives, including Sheryl Sandberg (now a helmer at the Facebook debacle), are being sued by stockholders.  Of course, any Google user–regardless of age–can still use Google’s autocomplete to “buy oxycontin online no prescription cheap.”

If Sheryl Sandberg’s experience is a guide two words of unsolicited advice for Marissa Meyer and Susan Molinari:  Separate counsel.  You’ll need it.

Getting Away With Monopolist Bad Behavior

Google has proven that it is willing to spend any amount of money to get its own way–including what stockholders think is misappropriating company money to avoid personal liability.  Nowhere is this axiom more fully proven than Google’s current struggle against the competition laws of the European Union in its desperate attempts to avoid sanctions planned by Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy.

The issue in the EU is the same as one of the issues forcefully argued on a bipartisan basis by our own U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee:  Google cooks its search results to harm its competitors and to favor Google’s own products.  This is not the only threat to Google running roughshod over the Internet, but it is one of the significant problems.

The Financial Times reports that Google has proposed a solution to hard wiring Google products in search results: keep the search results the same, but brand Google’s own products (which inevitably means branding on the first page of search results which is where Google’s own products mysteriously appear).

Google has made a bid to avoid an antitrust war with Brussels by offering to label information from its in-house services that are included in its search results pages, according to people familiar with the search giant’s submission.

Under the proposal, Google would put its brand on any of its own maps, stock quotes, airline flight details or other pieces of information returned with search results. It is an attempt to resolve regulators’ fears that Google is unfairly squeezing out other specialist information services on the web.

However, the idea has drawn complaints privately from some of the company’s fiercest competitors, who said Google could still rob rivals of online traffic by promoting its own services more prominently than others.

If you have dealt with Google, you know the “hey idiot” tone they frequently take, sublimely oblivious to the fact that sometimes it actually does hurt to ask.  Particularly if what you are asking for insults the intelligence of the other side.

So think about this branding idea:  If you were to accept this proposal as a solution to hard wiring Google’s products in search above its competitors, you would also have to ignore the fact that the entire point of the complaint is that Google purposely uses its monopoly position in the market to harm its competitors (and ultimately consumers who are prevented from receiving information about competing products).

In other words, you’d have to fall for two very Google tactics.  You’d have to believe that the bright and shiny object they want you to look at is a solution.

And you’d also have to fall for the rope-a-dope.  Google thinks that they can fool the EU into arguing about these bright and shiny objects while Google delays the outcome of the monopoly negotiation yet again while Google rakes in monopoly profits every day of delay.  In fact, at this point the entire investigation may have paid for itself.

The FT quotes Professor Ben Edelman who sums this up nicely:

“Google would still be able to put its competitors on page 35 [of its search results], so any solution would have to go much further,” said Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard University and critic of the company’s search and advertising practices.

And yes, Google really does have enough hubris to believe that they could trick Joaquín Almunia  into falling for this bunk.

Senators Blumenthal and Franken summed it up at the recent U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing:

Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut [told Google’s Eric Schmidt:] “You run the racetrack, own the racetrack, you didn’t have horses for a while but now you do and your horses seem to be winning.” To which his colleague from Minnesota, Al Franken, joked: “Google might be doping the horses.”

Literally, in Google’s case.

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