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May 19, 2014

Three reasons Google is having a bad month

Germany, Italy and Iran have the web giant in their sights.

By Ben Sullivan

Google has encountered heavy criticism over the weekend, coming under fire from three different countries for three different reasons.

A German Government official has warned that a ‘breakup’ of Google "must be seriously considered" because of its dominant market position.

The comments come as some countries seek to stop the search giant from crowding out its competitors, said Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

"A breakup, of the kind that has been carried out for electricity and gas grids, must be seriously considered here," said Grabriel in an article published in the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"But it can only be a last resort. That’s why we are focusing on anti-trust style regulation of Internet platforms."

Last Thursday, 400 companies that include major German publishers announced the submission of new antitrust complaints against Google. Calling themselves the Open Internet Project, the group said that Google wants to promote its own products in its search results at the expense of rival companies.

The German government has also patched up rules for sensitive public IT contracts in response to NSA surveillance reports.

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The announcement, made by a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in Germany, detailed how suspect firms would be banned from taking on some public contracts in the country if they were to be forced to hand over data seen as confidential to foreign intelligence.

Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that European citizens have a "right to be forgotten" in a landmark case against Google.

The decision by the EU’s supreme court means that companies can be forced to remove personal information from websites if such data is deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

Commercial practices

In Italy, Google is under the scrutiny of an investigation into alleged unfair commercial practices. Alongside Apple, Amazon, and French game developer Gamelost, the investigation by Italy’s antitrust and competition authority is set to decide whether or not the firms are misleading customers by advertising mobile apps as free, when actually payment is required to continue playing past a set point in the game.

The antitrust watchdog said: "Consumers could wrongly believe that the game is entirely free and, in any case, that they would know in advance the full costs of the game.

"Moreover, insufficient information seems to be provided to consumers about the settings needed to stop or limit the purchases within the app."

In trouble in Iran for the right reasons

Last Friday, Google became one of the latest victims to fall to Iran’s censorship campaign. The country’s government has reportedly blocked access to Google sites, alongside censoring two Farsi Wikipedia pages.

The blockages come just days after President Hassan Rouhani pledged to open up the Internet.

The government announced that it will loosen censorship of the country’s Internet by using smart-filters which let the government block only websites which are deemed ‘depraved and immoral’.


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