Google changes model in Europe

24 January 2012

LONDON: Google, the internet giant, is taking a nuanced approach in Europe, shifting its business goals depending on the needs of individual markets across the region.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Matt Brittin, Google's head for Northern and Central Europe, suggested the web fulfils a specific purpose in each country, as shown by France, Germany and the UK.

"In France it is about culture, in Germany it is about understanding, managing and protecting rights and opportunities, and in the UK it is more about start-ups and the internet economy," he said. "We're really trying to work with folks in Europe to establish ourselves as more of a local player."

Google is facing criticism from campaigners that it is abusing its leading position in the search sector, and is being investigated by the European Commission for this reason. The firm accounts for roughly 90% of total search traffic in markets such as France, Germany, Spain, the UK.

"Amongst the generalist search engines, it is true that we are by far the most popular in Europe. But when you look at how consumers actually search for things, most people use Google in combination with a range of other services," Brittin said.

These competitors could include Yahoo and Bing, recruitment sites, specialist platforms for buying certain goods, price comparison services, and so on. Brittin also argued that Google has no hold on users' choices.

"People can find an alternative and move to one at the click of a mouse," he said. "There is no lock-in or control. We are different from those kinds of companies that we sometimes get compared with for all sorts of reasons. Every user has a choice."

More broadly, the transformative impact of the web has been felt by industries from retail to newspapers, with numerous print titles proving particularly vociferous in their criticism.

"What I would say is that there is a job to do in terms of education and understanding and saying how internet companies like ours can help them deal with those challenges," Brittin said. "Ten years ago, e-commerce was nowhere; now it is a huge contributor to GDP. It is not surprising that the internet has been disruptive to a lot of businesses."

In demonstrating the web's positive potential, Brittin reported that for each job its presence rendered unnecessary, 2.6 new posts are created. He added that the internet economy makes up 7% of GDP in the UK, rising to 10–13% elsewhere.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff