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Is Google too big to control?

Posted by on December 3, 2014.

Publishers in general look at Google’s massive profits compared to their own and say, “That’s not fair. We produce the copy and get very little; they do nothing but link to it and get huge profits.” Not surprisingly, they want things to change. “Since we own the copyright,” says the argument, “Google should be forced to pay licensing fees.”

France is one of the countries to propose a ‘tax’ on search engines. Google, meanwhile, doesn’t like this idea – and has the perfect solution:

Google has threatened to exclude French media sites from search results if France goes ahead with plans to make search engines pay for content.

In a letter sent to several ministerial offices, Google said such a law “would threaten its very existence”.
Google threatens French media ban over proposed law

There are two things to consider here. Firstly, Germany has also considered this route, suffered the same response from Google, and has seen what is likely to happen:

Springer said a two-week-old experiment to restrict access by Google to its news headlines had caused web traffic to its publications to plunge, leading it to row back and let Google once again showcase Springer news stories in its search results.

Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said on Wednesday that his company would have “shot ourselves out of the market” if it had continued with its demands for the U.S. firm to pay licensing fees.
Germany’s top publisher bows to Google in news licensing row

The second issue is a ‘what if?’ What if TTIP was already in place, including the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS) demanded by the US (see TTIP: will a Franco/German alliance save Britain from Cameron? for details.) Well, Google says very clearly that such a national law would threaten its profits. Since it is clear that under US law Google links do not impinge copyright laws, such a French national law could be contrary to the TTIP agreement. It is possible – I say no more – that under such circumstances Google would be able to turn the tables on the French government and sue France for billions of dollars. These are very interesting times.

It may be, then, that Google is simply too big to control. The French publishers, however, still need/want more revenue; so if Google is too big, who else can they chastise? Well, it looks like they may have settled on EYEO, who might be better known as Adblock. Adblock is the browser add-on that automatically blocks adverts delivered by ad marketing firms. Since the publisher receives payment based on the number of times an advert is displayed, Adblock is actively impinging on the revenue it gets. Irish start-up firm PageFair monitors this:

Founded in August 2012, the company allows websites to access detailed analytics about precisely how many of their visitors are blocking adverts – and attempt to convince them to turn off ad blocking software.

PageFair’s analytics show that around one in five visitors to client websites are blocking adverts, and the company warns that that blocking “prevents websites from making money, and can cause them to go out of business”.
Anti-adblock startup secures $400,000 funding

This has put Adblock in the publishers’ cross-hairs. French publication Rue89 reports today (in French, Google translation):

Through the IAB France (umbrella organization for players of Internet advertising) and Gesture (online publishers syndicate), they may file a complaint in the coming days against EYEO, the company that developed this small module.

In Germany, several large groups (ProSiebenSat.1, Süddeutsche Zeitung, RTL) have already decided to attack the company in court.
Adblock Plus sued? Which raises questions

But there is another solution. All of this targeted must-have advertising is a new and false invention. We never had it before the web and it never stopped advertising. If the publishers all get together and say we will no longer accept targeted inserted adverts but will only accept static adverts (just like you get in magazines), then Adblock Plus won’t be able to block them. Job done; and Facebook, Google and all the others can stop tracking us and defying the Data Protection laws.

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