If Belgium had sued Microsoft, would anyone have cared?
There’s an interesting post from the Guardian Unlimited today that compares Google’s Belgium situation with Microsoft’s struggle with the EU. Author Jack Schofield, who calls Google’s recent troubles “a very silly saga” (I agree), states:
“Europeans are used to getting a laugh out of American court cases where someone sues Mega Corp Inc for $13.7 billion because they stubbed their big toe (though we also know they don’t get it).We’ve already got the EC threatening Microsoft with a deranged level of fines — €2,000,000 a day, or maybe €3,000,000 — presumably based on the idea that it has too much money and, since it’s Microsoft, nobody will care whether it’s just or not. Well, if it works against Microsoft, why not try it on Google, too?”
That last line hit me because the ruling against Google does almost seem like a punishment. What did Google really do to merit a threatened fine of $640,000 a day, plus the added humiliation of having to post the entire verdict on its site? Allow publishers to gain traffic and revenue through its search engine? It almost seems unreasonable.
Or maybe it just seems unreasonable because this is Google. If it was Microsoft, the company we love to hate, would we be so up in arms about it? Were people this outraged when Microsoft was hit with a $357 million fine in July? I remember reading the story, but I don’t remember anyone feeling as appalled as they do by the Google/ Belgium ruling. (Or the story getting half as much coverage.) Why? Because $357 million is nothing to Microsoft, so who cares? Microsoft is evil and deserves what they get, right?
Wrong, but that does seem to be the mentality. Even today when it’s revealed that the United States government tried to pressure the EC regarding Microsoft’s fine, who’s talking about it? Just a handful of outlets. The U.S. government tries to strong arm the EC into being “nicer” to Microsoft and people aren’t interested in that?
Was Google targeted by the courts for being Google? If not, why was it Google that Belgian publishers chose to attack? Why not continuing hitting Microsoft (too much press?) or pick a new target in Yahoo!? All three engines are guilty of the same offense, why not sue all three? Was Belgium making a statement with Google or were they just picking on the biggest fish in the pond?
We love to like Google – and with good reason. Google deserves our appreciation. They make our lives increasingly easier on the Web, respect local customs even when it’s in their best interest not to, and they have that whole don’t be evil thing going for them. Google has always been the anti-Microsoft, and because of that we stand up for their honor when hit with seemingly bogus lawsuits.
I’m not saying that Google doesn’t deserve our support. I love my daily dose of Google and I agree with their position here. I don’t think Belgian publishers have yet realized the true weight of their “win”. But Jack Schofield’s post does make you wonder. Why was Google handed such a harsh settlement? And why did we take it so personally? Would we have cared if it was Microsoft instead? Probably not.