An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

News Alert: Google Avoid Antitrust Charges in United States

I’ve written separately about Google’s egregious dodging of the antitrust bullet this week in "Google Makes Small Changes to Avoid US Antitrust Charges." But since a number of the blurbs here are follow-ups to that story, I wanted to make sure you saw that first. Put simply, Google is harming both consumers and competitors by pushing its own services over others artificially in search results, and since its revenues are derived almost solely by advertising on those services, it's becoming unfairly more powerful than the competitors that it's usurping. And before anyone chimes in with, “But I like [whatever Google service],” remember that people liked Internet Explorer (IE) too. That doesn’t mean that bundling it unfairly didn’t hurt consumers, generally, or the competition. That this is the exact same form of bundling, but taken to a much larger audience—billions of people versus millions that used Windows a decade ago—makes it all the more painful that the ineffectual Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was the agency in charge of this investigation.

EU Regulators: US Case Against Google Has No Bearing

I can believe I’m writing this, but thank God for antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU). In the wake of Google’s wrist slap in the United States (it should have been several slaps to the face), a European Commission (EC) spokesperson said that the FTC’s incompetence wouldn’t prevent it from doing the right thing. (The EC is also investigating Google for several antitrust violations.) “We have taken note of the FTC decision, but we don't see that it has any direct implications for our investigation, for our discussions with Google, which are ongoing,” the spokesperson said. In fact, things are already proceeding in a preferable fashion in Europe: The EU gave Google an ultimatum in December, demanding meaningful behavior changes within 30 days, and if it doesn’t comply, the EU will simply charge the firm with antitrust violations and fine it up to $4 billion. Cross your fingers, folks.

Google Win Was Big Loss for Microsoft, But …

There is one area where Microsoft could end up benefiting from the FTC’s cozy and largely unenforceable agreement with Google. The ineffectual regulatory agency did manage to wrangle a sort-of agreement from Google that it would not overcharge for the so-called standard-essential patents that Microsoft has been complaining about for the past year or so. (Google inherited this mess when it purchased Motorola Mobility last year.) Put simply, Motorola—and then Google—has attempted to vastly overcharge for patents that legally must be licensed for very small fees, a practice one might politely describe as “extortion” (not to mention “illegal”). And it has tangled with companies like Microsoft and Apple that rejected the expensive licensing costs. But to avoid formal antitrust charges from the FTC, Google did agree to “resolve standard-essential patent disputes through a neutral third party before seeking injunctions.” Which isn’t the same as “resolve standard-essential patent disputes through a neutral third party.” But whatever.

Yelp: FTC Inaction a “Missed Opportunity”

Online consumer reviews service Yelp was one of the many companies whose business was directly affected by Google’s theft of its content, so the firm is understandably upset with Google’s escape from meaningful antitrust scrutiny. (Google presented Yelp content in Google Search results without informing, crediting, or paying Yelp.) “Today’s announcements by the FTC validate a number of the concerns we have raised about Google’s dominance in the search market and its anti-competitive behavior,” a Yelp statement reads. “The closure of the Commission's investigation into search bias by Google without action, however, represents a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy, and the consumers and businesses that rely upon it.” The firm is now pinning its hopes on the EU, as are many others. “If you [are] the gateway for the vast majority of users on the Internet and you restrict information and put your house property ahead of everyone else, you potentially harm consumers," Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said back in November, describing Google’s anti-competitive business model.

“Duh” Report of the Week

I saw the headline “Windows 8 gains market share in December” and though I won’t call out the author as being particularly non-insightful, well … duh. Windows 8 was released in the waning days of October, so the only thing it could do is gain market share over the intervening months. Unfortunately, this report cites Net Applications data to prove its point, but since Net Applications measures “usage share” and not market share, I’ll just move on. Folks, Windows 8 is off to a slow start—it just is—and according to NPD data, it’s selling about 20 percent slower than was Windows 7 at the same point in its launch cycle. But yes, since Windows 8 is now for sale, market share can only go up. That’s how it works.

Samsung to Extend Smartphone Lead Over Apple in 2013

Market researchers at Strategy Analytics said this week that Samsung’s lead over Apple in the smartphone market would only grow in 2013, with smartphone shipments surging 27 percent to 875 million units this year. Samsung is projected to sell a whopping 290 million units, fully one third of all smartphones, while Apple will come in around 80 million units, or less than one-third of what Samsung will sell. Running out of options to compete with the far more diverse range of Android devices—Apple already sells two previous and dated iPhone models alongside the new one—Strategy Analytics predicts Apple will perhaps sell an “iPhone mini” in 2013 to help it compete better. But as reality sets in, it’s pretty clear that Apple has no place to run. And while the iPhone is indeed desirable and a best-seller, it will simply keep falling further and further behind. An opening for Windows Phone?

Google Chairman to Visit North Korea

And if you needed any more proof that Eric Schmidt is indeed the evil, cackling madman portrayed in the wonderful “Don’t Be Evil?” parody video, then consider the following: Schmidt—along with former New Mexico governor and UFO fanatic Bill Richardson—will defy a US State Department warning and visit North Korea. Richardson describes the trip as “a private humanitarian visit,” but then Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” so I assume we can pretty much expect the opposite. Maybe Schmidt is just trying to figure out a way to get some electricity into that country so he can sell some more ads. (I’m kidding of course. I mean. Who could be that evil?)

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