Vivaldi Says Google Abuses Its Monopoly Power

Posted on September 5, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud with 49 Comments

Vivaldi Says Google Abuses Its Monopoly Power

In a missive that echoes Kaspersky Labs’ complaints against Microsoft, Vivaldi co-founder and CEO Jon von Tetzchner has called on Google to stop abusing its monopoly power and undercutting his business.

The Kaspersky Labs complaints, of course, eventually escalated into formal antitrust complaints. And then Microsoft admitted it was doing as Kaspersky complained and, even crazier still, the software giant subsequently agreed to make major changes to Windows 10 to fully address the Kaspersky complaints.

Google, of course, does not have the terrible experience of decades of antitrust defeats to help its decision-making process. So we’ll have to see how it responds.

But here’s what’s happening.

“Recently, our Google AdWords campaigns were suspended without warning,” von Tetzchner says. “This was the second time that I have encountered this situation … Being excluded from using Google AdWords could be a major problem, especially for digital companies.”

Google suspended Vivaldi’s AdWords access, von Tetzchner says, because he had given several recent interviews, including one in Wired, in which he was critical of Google’s business practices.

“Two days after my thoughts were published in an article by Wired, we found out that all the campaigns under our Google AdWords account were suspended – without prior warning,” he continues. “Was this just a coincidence? Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?”

Vivaldi’s efforts to get Google to explain the suspension were unsuccessful, and the search giant tried to dictate to its tiny competitor how it should arrange content on its website and communicate information to its customers.

“After almost three months of back-and-forth, the suspension to our account has been lifted, but only when we bent to their requirements,” he writes.

So what’s the deal?

As von Tetzchner explains, Vivaldi offers a version of Google’s Chrome web browser that strips away all of the Google spying mechanisms. As such, his tiny firm has found itself under fire from Google on various fronts. The Vivaldi browser, for example, has to hide its identity when accessing Google services like Google Docs because the search giant otherwise introduces artificial incompatibilities. Since the browsers use the same technical underpinnings, the services would work identically too. But they don’t.

“Using Google’s services should not call for any issues,” he notes. “But sadly, the reality is different.”

And von Tetzchner has a long history of dealing with this kind of Google shenanigans. He previously ran Opera, another web browser competitor. That company also has to hide its browser identity from Google to ensure that Google services just work normally.

In the Wired interview that ostensibly triggered the Google response, von Tetzchner expands on these claims. And he raises the antitrust issue, noting that the U.S. and E.U., in particular, need stronger privacy laws that would prevent Google and others from collecting personal information for targeted advertising. This, he says, is the real reason for its protectionist strategies for Chrome.

“The fact you can target people in the extent you can today is great for advertisers,” he notes. “They can get your ads as tailored as possible. At the same time, it reduces the value of news sources because they compete for clicks: they become clickbait.”

Bingo. He’s right about that, for sure. (If I could make money making fun of the terrible clickbait headlines I see every day, I’d be rich.) The question is whether anyone will do something about it. Our best bet, of course, is the E.U., which currently does have at least three antitrust investigations in-progress against Google. But the E.U. moves far too slowly, and even their decisive victories will result in years of appeals with no real action taken. We need relief now.

Click here to learn more about the Vivaldi web browser.

 

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Comments (49)

49 responses to “Vivaldi Says Google Abuses Its Monopoly Power”

  1. maethorechannen

    the search giant tried to dictate to its tiny competitor how it should arrange content on its website and communicate information to its customers.


    It does that to everyone. It's why there's an entire cottage industry related to search engine optimization.


    search giant otherwise introduces artificial incompatibilities


    Artificial incompatibilities, or a fall back to lowest common denominator behaviour because it has no idea what capabilities some random browser has? I don't get why Google should be expected to know what every browser ever made should be capable of. Just because they're a search engine doesn't make them omniscient.


    I get Paul has an aversion to Google, but not every complaint some company makes against Google is legit. This one in particular smells of BS.


    (And before anyone chimes in to remind me about what happened to Microsoft when it got raked over the coals even though it really has nothing to do with Google other than spite - I don't think Microsoft ever did any wrong and what happened to them was unjust).

    • wright_is

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      I think the point is, if you go to the site and the Vivaldi browser says that it is Vivaldi, the Google service throw up errors and doesn't work properly. If you change the header to say that you are "Chrome", for example, the site works properly.

      As the underlying rendering engine uses the same source code as Google Chome (it is a branch project), there should be no reason for the Google services not to work with Vivaldi.


      The rearranging the website had nothing to do with SEO and search ranking, it was "if you want to have your advertising account re-enabled, then you need to redesign your website the way we think it should look. At least that is what von Tetzchner  is claiming.


      As to the Microsoft case, they did lots wrong! Forcing resellers to buy a Windows license, whether they sold their PC with Windows, FreeDOS, Linux or no OS installed is abuse of monopoly position.

      Using undocumented "public" server API calls that other software writers don't know about or have access to is also wrong.

      The browser one was rather fatuous in the end and it had been "naturally" resolved by the time the EU got around to handing out the infamous "Browser Ballot" screen. It was a genuine grievance, because they drove Netscape out of business, but Phoenix, sorry, Firebird, er, Firefox had risen out of its ashes and had made a decent market share by the time the EU got around to looking at the matter.

      • maethorechannen

        In reply to wright_is:

        If you change the header to say that you are "Chrome", for example, the site works properly.


        And if you change the user agent setting to "Bobs Browser" what happens?


        there should be no reason for the Google services not to work with Vivaldi.


        There is a reason. They could be sending an enhanced version of the site if they know the browser can handle it. How exactly is the server supposed to know it's dealing with a Chromium browser if it doesn't recognise the user agent string?


        Tetzchner is claiming.


        Forgive me for not taking what someone who has a competitive axe to grind says at face value. I want to see actual evidence of wrong doing.


        As for MS - the fall of Internet Explorer and the rise Android both show the way that Microsoft's "monopoly" should have been dealt with - through competition. Not running to mummy government because the contract terms are too tough or the competition is too hard.

        • wright_is

          In reply to maethorechannen:
          There is a reason. They could be sending an enhanced version of the site if they know the browser can handle it. How exactly is the server supposed to know it's dealing with a Chromium browser if it doesn't recognise the user agent string?

          The point being, if Vivaldi's header says it is a different browser, Google works properly. If it says that it is Vivaldi, the site refuses to display properly. Therefore there is no technical reason why it shouldn't work when it identifies itself as Vivaldi. It has nothing to do with compatibility. And web developers, conscientious ones at least, test the code with different browsers and, as the Google devs know that Vivaldi is a Chromium based project, they know that their code should work without modification, so why does it suddenly throw up errors and incompatibilities, when the agent string says Vivaldi, yet on the same browser, with the same page, just a different agent string, it works error free? If it was truly a compatibility problem, the errors would be identical regardless of which agent string is passed.

          In reply to maethorechannen:
          As for MS - the fall of Internet Explorer and the rise Android both show the way that Microsoft's "monopoly" should have been dealt with - through competition. Not running to mummy government because the contract terms are too tough or the competition is too hard.

          Sorry, but no. That is why the regulators are there. If I am buying a PC to install Linux on, why should I have to pay extra for a Windows license that I will never use?

          Likewise, if I am writing server software, why shouldn't I have access to the APIs and their documentation? That is again discriminatory behavior and illegal in most countries.

          Microsoft were rightly punished for sharp and sometimes illegal activities. If you break the law, you shouldn't be able to get away Scott free.

          This is a problem we see a lot with American based companies that try and set up shop abroad and then cry foul when they are investigated for illegal activities - Uber is a classic case in point, they tried to operate in Germany, but ignored the law, which says that all commercial drivers need a commercial license (NOT A TAXI LICENSE) to carry paying passengers. Without it, their insurance is invalid and it is illegal to drive without insurance.

          Uber ignored this, never checked that their drivers had the right license before hiring them and when they were put in front of the court, they said it wasn't their problem, because America.

          Or the US Justice department trying to bypass international law and treaties to get at offshore data (data held on an Irish server, run by an Irish company), just because the parent company was based in the USA. Microsoft said they couldn't hand over the data without a local search warrant (which the Justice Department could have applied for through existing channels). The Justice Department, instead of following standard procedure tried to get Microsoft cited for contempt of court...


        • Skolvikings

          In reply to maethorechannen:

          There is a reason. They could be sending an enhanced version of the site if they know the browser can handle it. How exactly is the server supposed to know it's dealing with a Chromium browser if it doesn't recognise the user agent string?


          Come on. You and I both know that Google is very aware of the Vivaldi browser and it's user agent. You perhaps make a compelling argument in that Google perhaps couldn't possibly know every user agent in the world (although I suspect they actually do), but to try and act like Google is all innocent and naive and has no clue about the Vivaldi browser... that's absurd.

      • chrisrut

        In reply to wright_is:"As to the Microsoft case, they did lots wrong! Forcing resellers to buy a Windows license, whether they sold their PC with Windows, FreeDOS, Linux or no OS installed is abuse of monopoly position."
        While I disagree with this statement, more to the point I think Maethorchannen was alluding to the more recent EU case in which MX acquiesced to Kaspersky's complaints.
        I might add, arguably, agreeing to give Kaspersky more time with finished product before release may have forced planned features to be shelved until RS4 so that it could meet the suddenly shorter completion window - because the October release date - to backup its poor beleaguered hardware partners - could NOT be changed. Something had to give: and it was features.


        • maethorechannen

          In reply to chrisrut:


          Actually, I was alluding to everything slung against Microsoft for the last 25 years.


          For Kaspersky - they chose to be sharecroppers on Microsoft's platform. That they're no longer required? Tough. Had Microsoft done their job properly from the beginning, Kaspersky would never have had a product to begin with.

    • crfonseca

      In reply to maethorechannen:
      1. you're confusing SEO, which aims to improve a site's rank on Google Search with Google simply suspending the account of one of their Adwords clients, because they didn't like the client's web site. Among other things, Google forced Vivaldi to include a link to the EULA in its home page right under the download button, by claiming they have a rule that requires it, but guess who doesn't have a link to the EULA in it's own download page. And when Vivaldi made that change, their Adwords account was again suspended, this time because, according to Google, they broke the rule that says that the download page must include clear instructions on how to uninstall the software. Can you guess who doesn't do that either?
      2. Vivaldi uses the exact same rendering engine as Chrome, so a "fall back to the lowest common denominator behaviour" makes absolutely no sense. Also, simply changing the User Agent in Vivaldi makes all of Google's sites mysteriously work just fine. Opera, which these days also uses the same rendering engine as Chrome, also uses a fake User Agent to Google's sites work fine. Also, it's not like they haven't done that before, one time even did it to Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8.
      3. Microsoft pulled *a lot* of crap in the 90s. True, quite a few of its competitors shot themselves in the foot, for example, Lotus by going after Borland thus ensuring that neither had the resources to compete with Excel, but the fact that the guys that developed Excel or Word had access to yet unreleased versions of Windows also ensured that they worked far better, and where ready far earlier that any of its competitors. Oh, Microsoft also signed exclusivity contracts with lots of PC manufacturers that essentially forced them to not sell their PCs with any other OS other than Windows thus blocking them from selling PCs with the then nascent Linux.

      And to be honest, I don't find Google's behaviour surprising at all, and pretty much predicted it would eventually happen when they hired Eric Schmidt.

  2. Daekar

    More and more reasons to drop Google like the dangerous hot potato that it is. Don't use their services, don't let them track you.


    It blows my mind they haven't been slammed for monopoly yet... They're a textbook case in every possible way. Alphabet should be broken up at the very least, and possibly Google should be as well.

    • Nicholas Kathrein

      In reply to Daekar:

      You totally sound like an MS fanboy who is mad that Google took all MS's cake. We have part the story. Did Google respond to this. Maybe there is more to this. We don't know yet and you already made up your mind.

    • Minok

      In reply to Daekar:

      In a world, well in the USA, where the government allows the formation of monopolies and market controlling corporations in the media, content, distribution, news space: Eg Comcast-NBC-Universal, or Disney, or similar in Banks (where important protections such as Glass–Steagall are repealed in modern times)... there are critical risk to our society in terms of an informed electrorate or our financial system.... to worry about the web search space is really low on the list of things on the 'hair on fire bad list'.


  3. MutualCore

    I wonder how long it will take until this guy is labeled a 'white supremacist' for daring to take on Google.

  4. timo47

    With regards to maethorechannen's comment in the "Premium comments" (seriously, what's the point of these separated comments? is there anyone that's going to pay for premium just so that they comment in another section? /end of rant): testing which browser the user is running is a VERY BAD practice. It should NEVER be done by anyone who claims to be a professional web developer.

    A serious programmer will test which capabilities the rendering engine of the browser supports. If that engine supports something it can be used and if not a fallback must be foreseen. So if Vivaldi is using the same Chromium rendering engine, then Google's service should render exactly the same in both browsers. And if Edge also supports all the required features in its rendering engine, then it should all render exactly the same in Edge as well.

    That's the point of web standards: to be able to program sites indepedant of specific browsers. Google is breaking the web with their behavior just as MS did with IE6. And it has to stop.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to timo47:

      You'd think they could poll the premium members to find out whether they put much to any value in separate premium comments. If they don't care what premium members prefer, that's indicative of the value of premium subscriptions.

      • Darmok N Jalad

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        I can't imagine the segregation of comments is the main motivator of subscriptions, but as a non-subscriber, I guess I can't say for sure. It's not like the comments on the free side ever really get out of hand, plus there's a rating system and moderation. I guess if a spammer or troll is dedicated enough, he/she can pay for premium to ruin the experience for everyone.

        As the OP suggests, responding to a premium comment is not very easy or clear, so I generally don't read premium since it's a one way street and feels very separated. Wouldn't a combined comment system likely spark more dialog, which means more comments, which means more page loads and more ads served?

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

          I'm a premium subscriber who dislikes the separate premium comments, but I figure I'm unusual in that respect. Still, a poll would remove that uncertainty.

          Myself, I haven't noticed much difference in the quality of comments in premium and public sections. The split may exist only to provide more of an illusion of value for subscribers.

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to timo47:

      Yeah, I've never seen the point of having split comments.


      As for browser detection. I never said it was good practice, but it is something that is done. And saying a professional web developer would never do such a thing is all well and good until you're sitting in a meeting room with the product owner who wants you to do exactly that and there is absolutely nothing you can say that will change their mind.


      My main point was that everything Vivaldi are claiming can be, in the absence of evidence, explained in a way that is not Google specifically attacking Vivaldi. Maybe Google are (I wouldn't put it past them), but I want to see some actual evidence first before I start raging about how bad a company Google are.

  5. Geoff

    "As von Tetzchner explains, Vivaldi offers a version of Google’s Chrome web browser that strips away all of the Google spying mechanisms."


    It still amazes me how Chrome is so widely used. Anyone who knows about Google simply wouldn't touch it.

  6. nbplopes

    I think the world needs to promote another multiplatorm browser but chrome.


    Has long as tech journalists keep promoting it regardless that will not change.


    some security expert should write a report after personal security and privacy. More than one actually ... talking about chrome.


    if Forbes is a afraid of publishing something less good about Chrome than it's not doing good journalism.


    Google action is pretty standard in business that can only be balanced by counter measures.

  7. dontbe evil

    usual scroogle style, hope antitrust will punish them fast and hard

  8. melinau

    Hands up who's surprised.

    Google is a behemoth whose size, influence and worse intrusiveness, makes MS in its "evil" heyday look positively benign.

  9. Matt Lohr

    "Our best bet, of course, is the E.U..... We need relief now."


    Governments point guns at people. Google today, you tomorrow. Be careful what you wish for.


    Google is evil, but they never pointed a gun at anybody.

  10. John Scott

    All this reminds me of how web standards seem only skin deep. We still have this old sort of Internet Explorer standard going only maybe more subtle. I personal think Google is just has too much control and now it has the power to regulate to its advantage the web. Maybe we are finally seeing Google for what it really is?

  11. MikeGalos

    So, it appears to be common knowledge in the tech industry that if you don't hide your browser's not being Google's Chrome you get a bad experience from Google's web products even if there are literally no differences aside from supporting Google's ad system.

    You have to wonder why the tech press ignores this clear abuse of the "tying" provisions of monopoly power.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      I wonder if it's because so many people hitched their allegiance to Google so long ago. They bought into the "do no evil" line, hoping that Google would come in and save everyone from the then anti-trust MS and the expensive, closed Apple. Well, Google is no better, but because they present themselves as such a progressive company, people don't dare question their ethics. Not to mention their tendency to silence dissenting opinion, which they do both internally and externally. People should be more afraid of Googles power than anything MS or Apple can attain, because Google has more control on content.

    • timo47

      In reply to MikeGalos:


      I read an interesting article yesterday in which a study had shown that politicians hardly ever change their opinion even if confronted directly with facts that disprove their position.


      And this is not something that applies only to politicians: everyone who is faced with information that goes against your personal beliefs and values will have an initial reflex of taking a defensive position. Nobody likes being told that they or the things they believe in are wrong.


      I guess that's why news channels such as Fox News have been able to become popular: they don't hide their bias and that's attractive and even comformting to people who share the same beliefs.


      So many people have gone along for so long with Google as the "good guys" that it has become very difficult for them to accept a different "truth".

  12. SvenJ

    Not sure everyone isn't doing the same thing Google is doing. Ads are why the internet is 'free' (Comcast, Verizon, etc not withstanding. That's access not content) Even this site. I see over to the right, an Amazon ad with a couple of items I looked at yesterday. This is Edge and Chrome isn't even installed.

    That's probably not the crux of von Tetzchner's complaint, but if he is actually offering "a version of Google’s Chrome web browser", I would think he has some responsibility to Google.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to SvenJ:

      Chrome is built on Chromium, which mostly looks and behaves identically to Chrome. Chromium is open source and based off several other open source licenses. Chrome is proprietary, so Vivaldi is based on Chromium. So long as they adhere to the open source license, Google can't do anything about it. There are actually quite a few browsers based on Chromium.

    • techconc

      In reply to SvenJ:

      You can display ads without being creepy and tracking, etc. Advertisers will pay what they need to pay in order to advertise on your site. If you take the lazy route and rely on something like Google Ads, the only party making any real money is Google and not the web site with content, etc.

    • wright_is

      In reply to SvenJ:

      It is using the same rendering engine as Chrome. It uses its own UI and settings on top of the rendering engine. It shows ads, but it doesn't do the Chrome-phone-home junk on the side, which is what irks Google it seems.

      It is a browser for the privacy conscious. It doesn't block adverts per-se, but it does not provide all of the tracking options that Chrome offers Google.

    • Stooks

      In reply to SvenJ:

      Ublock Orgin is your best friend. I see no ads on this site. Recently I do get some really annoying add in my face popup when I first come here, that I must click out of the way but once that is gone nothing else. Hopefully the filters update and drop that ad as well. Ublock even supports Edge.

  13. Darmok N Jalad

    So many corporations act so open-minded and progressive, but in the end it still all comes down to profit. Google just seems more shifty than most, which is why I steer clear of them. It's the only vote I have.

  14. Bart

    As Microsoft found out, it sucks to be "the big guy".

  15. Stooks

    Paul dig even deeper.


    Barry Lynn of the New America think tank fired last week for his work on monopolies and supporting the EU decisions against Google. Google threaten to pull funding to New America and he and his team were fired.


    Kashmir Hill also wrote a piece last week about when she worked for Forbes she wrote a story about how Google told Forbes to put the Google + logo on their site and if they did their articles would float to the top when people searched on Google. If they did not no floating. After she wrote that piece in 2011, Forbes forced her to take it down because Google wanted it gone. Google also wiped all traces of her original article from Google search.


    I would link the articles here but I guess we can't post links anymore. Leo covered all of this on This Week in Tech on Sunday.


    All of this is simply too much. I am going to limit my use of Google products whenever possible. I never really trusted them and now I never will.

    • red.radar

      In reply to Stooks:
      If true, just frightening. But when I googled for your sources I couldn't find anything. so I am skeptical you made it all up.


      • Stooks

        In reply to red.radar:

        Google this - "I criticized Google. It got me fired. That’s how corporate power works" it is about Barry Lynn from the Washington Post.


        Or "Yes, Google Uses Its Powers to Quash Ideas it Doesn't Like" Karshmir Hill, Gizmodo


        Seriously if you know how to use basic search you would have found both of them. In fact there is new stuff now on the Barry Lynn firing. A bunch of former Think Tank Fellow wrote a letter bashing New American and Google for what went down.


        Google has had a bad few months of press. Started with them not paying women the same for the same job. Then that guy that posted the internal memo, Barry Lynn, Karshmir Hill and now this Vilvaldi deal.

      • Darmok N Jalad

        In reply to red.radar:

        Are you trying to be funny? I just searched for Barry Lynn on Bing and got a story about what he was talking about. It only proves his point if you found nothing when you "Googled" it.

  16. Minok

    Google has developed its technologies and made them available; its unclear how much they are obligated to make those and their APIs available to all who want to run separte businesses off of it. A business protecting its position is allowed. Conflating Google search and adwords, web browsers and their possible source heritage, and Google services (like docs) and their availability doesn't help the discussion because its not clear what vivaldi is specifically talking about.

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