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MP: Googlepoly hurts British business

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The UK is heading for a "bleakly uniform world of Google everything" unless the company is constrained, Parliament heard yesterday in a special debate on the power of search engines.

Government should protect and foster competition in e-commerce argued Labour MP for Hyndburn, said Graham Jones, who called the debate.

"British companies are being stifled. Moreover, the Treasury is losing out," warned Jones.

Jones' constituency is home to Reach Global, which runs several vertical search engines including NetMovers. Jones described it as "a very British business" - "they pay UK taxes, and employ and train British people, but they are being squeezed out." Google used its leverage of its monopoly to promote its own services, he said.

He added that the introduction of Google's shopping product caused traffic to price comparison sites to fall by 41 per cent over two years, while internet traffic in general had risen 30 per cent. "Google Maps decimated traffic to Multimap and Streetmap."

Foundem, one of the companies that has prompted a European Commission antitrust investigation into Google practices, saw its business suffer after it was sin-binned by Google. The move followed Google's introduction of its own rival shopping service. Foundem continued to be highly placed in search results in Yahoo! and Bing.

Jones noted "speculation that Google may seek to acquire, or seek preferential contracts with, 3G networks specifically to harness advantageous proprietary Google technology into that network, which again would be to the disadvantage of other companies".

"It is time to look beyond network neutrality and consider search neutrality: the principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance."

Without this, he argued, there would be one network to rule us. "Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google's competitive advantage, we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google everything - Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Property, Google Telecoms and, of course, Google Books."

Jones pointed out that the company's track record of innovation was overstated, as almost all of Google's successful products and services had been acquired. "Some will argue that Google is so innovative that we need not worry, but Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented."

Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey said gave Jones little comfort. He noted that the EU anti-trust "reflects the widespread concerns", but felt the UK was a competitive market and the Office of Fair Trading investigated the issue about 18 months ago.

Google's role at the heart of government has come under increasing scrutiny. One of the co-founders of the Independent newspaper Stephen Glover recently wondered why Chancellor George Osborne had co-written an editorial piece with outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

"I can't imagine a member of the Government doing a piece with Rupert Murdoch," Glover noted. You can imagine the reaction if he had.

What's good for Google, it seems, must be good for the UK. ®

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