“Too big, too powerful and too influential”—why British lawmakers are obsessed with Google

Britain is not pleased.
Britain is not pleased.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Winning
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The British Parliament today released a report called “Supporting the creative economy.” The title is snoozy but the proceedings are explosive. Google is mentioned 235 times over 70 pages of the report’s first volume (pdf), which runs to 422 pages (including witness testimony). In contrast, Apple is mentioned 55 times, Facebook 53 times and Amazon a mere 21. Indeed at one point, the chair of the committee that put the report together refers to “our favourite subject of Google.” Here are some highlights.

From “Conclusions and recommendations”

  • We are deeply concerned that there is an underlying agenda driven at least partly by technology companies (Google foremost among them) which, if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the United Kingdom’s future prosperity will significantly depend.
  • We strongly condemn the failure of Google, notable among technology companies, to provide an adequate response to creative industry requests to prevent its search engine directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites.

From the oral evidence

  • Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, a research firm based in London:  So believe you me, they are at it in America, and elsewhere, they fund think-tanks, there are various enterprises and institutions that have come to be, this is a constant theme of the Google’s iBash, which I attend.
  • Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property at the Department for Business: Google is one of several search engines, and I am very aware of their power, put it that way. I am also very aware, I think, that they have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10, I understand.

From the questions

  • Q253: Just for the record, I want to mention that I asked the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Questions a couple of months ago how many times Google had met at No.10 and I was told 22 times. I think that is good information for the Committee to have.
  • Q363 (to Sarah Hunter, Google’s UK head of public policy) You understand the importance of a company’s reputation and their image in terms of public policy. Is there any concern among those higher up in Google that you are now public enemy No. 1 as far as the creative industries are concerned?
  • Q848: You are probably aware that the Committee visited Google last year, which personally I found a rather spooky experience. It was like visiting some sort of religious sect. I have to say that this is an American company that makes millions of pounds in profits from advertising revenue and websites, and the Government gives British IP [intellectual property] away for free. Do you think it is fundamentally fair that a company like Google, which is not even paying any tax in the country, is getting this advantage over people?

And finally

  • Q889: Minister, this Committee has seen at first-hand the arrogance of Google, which you have probably seen as well, when we visited America but also when they came here in front of the Committee. It was just sheer arrogance from them. The problem is that Google has just become too big, too powerful and too influential, not just for the UK Government but for the US Government as well, and as legislators can we not do anything to help people who are trapped in the Google bubble?