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Google, in Regulatory Crosshairs, Tells Enforcers to Talk to the Hand

From copyright and privacy to antitrust issues, Google (GOOG) has become the regulatory poster child of high tech.

So what does Google do when the EU decides to deepen its probe into the company? Google refuses to cooperate with the Connecticut Attorney General. Maybe it's a legally smart move, but it will also repaint the target on Google's back in day-glo orange.

Google is in hot water in Europe, where companies complained that Google had deliberately lowered the search rankings of competitors. On top of the complaints it was already investigating, the EU has now added two German cases also claiming search manipulation:

The B.D.Z.V. and V.D.Z., which count 450 newspaper and magazine publishers among their members, brought their complaint against Google a year ago at the German Federal Cartel Office.The publishers accused Google of manipulating search rankings and have called on it to reveal its algorithm and stop giving preference to its own operations. The publishers also accused Google of failing to pay newspapers even though the company earned large amounts of money by posting advertisements next to links to articles.
Google said that it will "continue to work cooperatively" with the European regulators, which is pretty amusing given that it also just told the Connecticut attorney general that it won't hand over data it recorded from private wi-fi links as its Street View cars passed by. Why? Maybe because the company hasn't told the real story. At first, it claimed to have recorded only fragments of data. Then it admitted that it might have picked up full emails. My guess is that along with the emails were account user names, passwords, and other data that could push the issue into wiretapping territory. And now, other states are considering following Connecticut's actions.

There comes a time when you know you've screwed up and it's time to take your medicine. Google, however, keeps sending signals that it hopes to dodge its fate and avoid the consequences -- and it's not as if the EU antitrust authorities can't see what Google is doing in Connecticut.

This is a problem that has been building for a few years now. Perhaps Google believes that it's clever enough to avoid the tightening noose -- and if so, it should look at history, because companies with that attitude tend to find themselves in serious trouble.


Image: Flickr user melanieburger, CC 2.0.