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Antitrust deal leaves Google undamaged

Sharon Gaudin | Feb. 7, 2014
Google's agreement to end its three-year antitrust dispute with the European Union gives the company's search rivals a boost, but it's probably not enough to make a dent in Google's search engine dominance.

Google's rivals, such as Microsoft with its Bing search engine, haven't pushed for antitrust action because they want financial redress, Andrews said. They want to tarnish Google's image and give its users a reason to try a different search engine, a different smartphone or a different cloud-based set of office apps.

"[Google's competitors] want to get across the message to Google's users that [Google is] not to be trusted," he added. "If they can create an environment of mistrust, then they impact Google directly... But Google does not face a dislike or suspicion from the vast majority of its user base. And any distrust is generally eroded by Google's excellent performance in search results."

So if the EU case didn't deal Google a financial blow or affect its image, does it hurt Google at all?

The agreement gives Google's search rivals more prominent display on the company's search results pages. That change opens the door for rivals Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo's search to squeeze through.

The question is whether that's enough of an opening to help rivals make a dent in Google's 90% market share dominance in Europe. The answer from most analysts is: Probably not.

"A search engine like Google or Bing or any of the others are essentially directing traffic through the Web, Strawn noted. "If you provide the ability for a rival to click through to their website, it has the potential to impact the business because it changes the flow... If you put a rival's logo or link on your page, you're opening up a door through which traffic, that you would have monetized, will be monetized by a competitor instead. Will it affect them monetarily? Of course, but it's all about magnitude."

He added that since Google has a grip on 90% of search share in Europe, there's little for the company to do but slip in dominance.

"This won't help Google," said Strawn. "It has the potential for having an impact on market share. But based on what they're describing here, I'm not sure it's enough to meaningfully move the dial... The devil is in the details. We'll have to wait and see how the changes are implemented."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said the EU agreement opens a door for Yahoo and Bing, but both companies need to up their game if they have any hope of stepping through it.

"Bing and Yahoo need to up their product and marketing game now that they have an opening. Otherwise, it will be for naught," he added. "This definitely slows Google down, but given their lead, I don't think it will have a long-lasting effect."

The antitrust action, added Gartner's Andrews, doesn't change the fact that that the word "Google" still means "how you find stuff."


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