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Google the almighty

The European Union recently fined the company US$4.12 billion, the largest antitrust penalty the EU has ever handed out, for forcing Android phone makers to carry its search and web browser apps in order to access the Play Store.

Jakarta Post/ANN |

It is hardly surprising that the Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) opened an investigation into Google last week. The case, which centers on the tech giant making its proprietary payment system mandatory for apps on the Play Store, has emerged in similar forms in other countries, including India and the United States. Complaints against Google have been rife in recent years.

The European Union recently fined the company US$4.12 billion, the largest antitrust penalty the EU has ever handed out, for forcing Android phone makers to carry its search and web browser apps in order to access the Play Store.

As people, governments and companies become increasingly dependent on tech companies, they lose crucial components of their freedom – be it privacy, data or even livelihoods – to the digitalized ecosystems these companies have been fortifying. And many are now fighting to get that freedom back. In Indonesia’s case, Google has been accused of requiring the use of its own billing system for Play Store apps.

It charges a service fee of 15 to 30 percent, higher than other payment providers’ fees, which stand at 5 percent or lower. These two complaints are similar to cases in the US, where the company is set to pay $90 million to settle a legal fight with app developers over money earned from apps for Android smartphones and in-app purchases.

Google has built a mega digital ecosystem and has enticed people to use it for free for many years before beginning to charge them. And it’s not just one or two things that people are dependent on. From email to digital businesses, some people’s digital lives and work rely almost exclusively on Google. What Google and other Big Tech players should remember is that while Google has been growing its business, it has grown authoritarian, taking away people’s choices and requiring them to play by all of its rules. And like any other authoritarian regime, Google may become seen as an enemy to democracy.

As a Silicon Valley company, the brainchild of US democracy and capitalism and grown from the freedom to innovate, it is ironic that Google has taken an apparently authoritarian turn. But it is also true that a tech giant like Google is, at its core, profit maximizing. And as governments and people make their case against the company, it’s worth considering that one day it may not have such an exclusive hold on the convenience, knowledge and access it does at the moment.

And when that happens, everyone will be free to log out of Google’s world. So when we think of how Google has become a burden, we should start to think of our lives without it. There are many potential alternatives. Will they be as convenient or easy? Probably, it’s just a matter of getting used to.