World and Nation

Google is target of European backlash on US tech dominance

BRUSSELS — A top German official called for Google to be broken up. A French minister pronounced the company a threat to his country’s sovereignty. A European publishing executive likened it to a Wagnerian dragon.

Across Europe, Google has been under fire, reflecting the broader challenges facing U.S. technology companies. Google, fairly or not, has become a glaring proxy for criticism of an intrusive U.S. government and concern over America’s unmatched technology dominance.

On Monday, things grew worse. Regulators pushed the company to give up more in an antitrust settlement — demanding that Google make additional changes to its secret sauce, the search algorithm.

When Google initially settled with regulators in February, it emerged largely unscathed, agreeing to make modest adjustments to its search formula and avoiding a fine. Now, the deal is in jeopardy. If Google does not acquiesce, regulators could toss out the settlement and bring formal charges, which could prompt billions of dollars in penalties and major changes to its operations.

The backlash in Europe extends beyond Google. Taxi drivers from London to Madrid have demonstrated against Uber, the U.S. ride-sharing company that was recently banned in Germany. Apple and Amazon are being investigated over their tax policies and regulators are scrutinizing Facebook’s proposed acquisition of WhatsApp, a messaging app.

Google, with its broad reach, is arguably facing the most pressure.

Accusations are mounting that Google unfairly exploits its dominant position in search, giving a competitive edge to its growing stable of businesses, like YouTube videos, its Google Play app store and its news alerts.

“We are afraid of Google,” Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, a German publishing giant, wrote in an open letter to Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman.

Google has not been idle.

Since 2010, the company has tripled its lobbying budget in Brussels to as much as $2 million annually, according to public records. Google has hired political insiders, and has tapped at least four outside firms to bolster its own staff of seven registered lobbyists, records show.

“We continue to work with the EC to resolve the concerns they have raised,” the company said in an emailed statement about the antitrust settlement, referring to the European Commission.

Much has changed since Google was founded in the late 1990s, and it is now under attack around the globe.