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.