Monopolistic big tech companies are increasingly feeling regulatory pressure from all sides. As exemplified by John Oliver in a recent Last Week Tonight episode, that’s more than likely a good thing for consumers, but it will have serious implications for the affected business models. The latest regulatory investigation comes from Germany, where the German Federal Cartel Office is now looking into the Google Maps Platform.
As spotted by Caschys Blog, the office has published a press release detailing that it’s starting proceedings against Google for potential anti-competitive restrictions in its Maps Platform service. This isn’t the regular consumer Maps app, though, but rather the company’s business-focused custom maps tool that allows others to build their own maps-based applications and websites — think travel apps, delivery tracking tools, and more. However, Google’s terms hinder those who use its Maps Platform from combining it with other mapping tools, which the Cartel Office sees as a potential anti-competitive move. A similar issue exists within the Android Automotive Services framework, Google’s operating system for cars, which also severely limits which other services car manufacturers can use.
The Cartel Office is starting an investigation into these matters, asking customers and competitors about their experiences in the next few weeks. The regulator is also working on a similar case against Google’s News Showcase snippets that set apart certain articles from others on Google News in collaboration with select publications and is looking into the company’s terms and conditions when it comes to data processing. The office is also working on similar cases against Meta (neé Facebook), Amazon, and Apple, rounding up almost all the monopolistic big tech companies currently in existence.
This new case isn’t isolated internationally, either. The US Justice Department has only recently accelerated a Google Maps antitrust probe of its own, looking into the same Android Automotive Services as the German authorities. As previously extensively covered, bills meant to keep big tech companies in check currently enjoy bipartisan support in the US, too, with Republicans and Democrats agreeing that something has to be done about the current situation.
Earlier this year, the EU reached an agreement for new big tech regulations under the so-called Digital Markets Act (DMA). It’s a big package meant to make the digital sector fairer and more competitive, and it could have broad implications on Google’s, Amazon’s, and Meta’s business practices, including a push for interoperability between chat platforms like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Signal. Pre-installed core software like browser and email clients couldn’t be set as the default from the get-go, either. Similar anti-competitive fines have hit Google in South Korea, Australia, and more.
While you might think that the status quo we have these days is good since you don’t notice any obvious downsides, we really don’t know what we might be missing out on. For one, big tech companies often buy out promising competitors before they even have the chance to become serious contenders in their field of business, and for another, some ideas might never be turned into actual businesses for fear of losing against the current leaders in any case.