This row is separate to the storm over multinationals not paying their fair share of taxes on local profits; although arguably the strength of feeling against Google may have been dampened if Google, as per many multinationals in general, weren't aggressively minimising local profits in an attempt to reduce their overall tax bill.
This row is about journalism and the poor, suffering, local newspapers coming to rely on Google for a large proportion of their readers.
For I doubt any publication worth their salt is worse off in terms of web traffic.
I'm no fan of Google, but the position of Google as an audience generator can't be overlooked. I've been privy to web stats from companies who mysteriously find themselves de-indexed by Google and it's invariably catastrophic, with traffic falling to between 20 and 40 percent of previous volumes. Those who do manage to get re-indexed recover pretty much all of their traffic.
And, for the record, I'm sympathetic to the news publishers' plight. They pay for quality journalism, Google - I would say search engines in general but let's face it, this is an ideological battle against the Big G - reaps the profit.
So let's take this as a given, Firth's lemma, if you like. Google brings news websites in general more traffic than they would otherwise get. Additionally, I'll add for the sake of clarity: Google brings news websites more opportunity to present display advertising to its users.
So why the uproar when there's no evidence that the average news website is any worse off and plenty of empirical evidence to the contrary?
Over the last year I spoke to several lobbyists representing UK publishers pushing for similar anti-Google measures here in the UK. Their message was met sympathetically by MPs - especially Labour MPs - who seem happy to see this as a battle of home-grown publishing talent versus the Silicon Valley leeches.
Publishers seem to be suffering from a mixture of fear, envy and greed.
They're quite rightly afraid of ceding control of their audience up the chain and having their income and very existence reliant on the whims of a bohemoth like Google. If Google turns off the tap they might go under.
There's also misguided fear - fear that Google is itself too powerful and will take over the world. I beg to differ - Google's dominance is either benign or transitory; things have a knack of finding their own level when consumers are empowered and monopolies are not protected in law*
*Irony alert, as this is exactly what the newspaper industry is asking for.
There's envy of Google's profits, plus a form of greed - publishers want to own their own audience. They're not happy with single visits. They have wrestled and failed with the notion of visitor retention.
They want the visitor who comes to their website from Google News to see all the other great journalism they offer and become a loyal reader.
But this of course is not just bollocks. It's utter bollocks, for the editors are happily baiting Google News with trash stories about Hollywood celebrity car crashes then berating these visitors for not staying at the Daily Telegraph to read about Britain's plight in the European Union and how quantitative easing has buggered the pension funds of millions.
Trying to tax web links is dangerous for three reasons:
- The law of unintended consequences means such a law will inevitably hit other smaller businesses and in the end prevent any local company growing to rival to Google and tempering the search engine's dominance and power.
- It encourages a victim mentality amongst local web businesses who, instead of pioneering new approaches to online publishing become reliant on oppressive laws which end up helping no-one
- It will lead to internet censorship and online advertising trade embargoes along national boundaries when offshore French news aggregators flout French law. French courts might order services to be blocked in France and/or ban French companies from advertising on the service, or any affiliate. Queue censorship of news and protectionism - neither healthy for France itself
Google is today a dominant and profitable organism. Who could forgive socialist politicians for wanting to tax Google and redistribute some of its wealth?
But Google in its current form is spreading something. If not wealth it is spreading access to products and services people otherwise would not use.
Granted it's not doing this out of love for the people - it's doing this to corner its own audience; and, to some extent, spike competitors.
Want to set up an internet business that charges for email? Google will undercut you, offering email for free. Blogging? Ditto. Cloud documents, storage, maps... You get the idea - the anti-competitive weapon of free.
All the while Google is enhancing its audience monopoly and its vast data bank on all our online habits and tastes in order to sell-back its advertising products of questionable value to the publisher or advertiser alike.
None of this sounds too pretty, but the end result of this form of extreme digital capitalism is a form of socialism. Free email for all. Free shared spreadsheets and documents. A voice through a free blogging platform for all citizens. An affordable variant of Apple's £400+ smartphone.
Yes, none of the above is guaranteed to last. But since Google's dominant position is not protected in the underlying technology of the internet or in law then there will be rivals, just as Google is attempting to chip away at Facebook's own monopoly.
We all benefit from the brutal competition in the digital market - including online news websites, who already have a choice to get their websites de-indexed from Google News.
Businesses need to help themselves and adapt to survive, not pressurise governments into enacting restrictive retrograde laws that will offer only short-term protection whilst ultimately harming the overall digital economy.
(As you can probably tell from my tone, I'm in no way paid by or affiliated with Google)