Publisher Mathias Doepfner accuses Google of being a monopoly
Mathias Doepfner accuses the web giant of discouraging competition, invading users' privacy and operating as a monopoly
The Guardian in Berlin
The chief executive of Europe's largest newspaper publisher has accused Google of abusing a monopoly position in the digital economy to discriminate against competitors and build up a "superstate".
In an open letter to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt published in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mathias Doepfner, the head of Germany's Axel Springer publishing house, said the US company was operating a business model that "in less reputable circles would be called a protection racket", discriminating against competitors in its search rankings.
Google's motto was "if you don't want us to finish you off, you better pay", he said.
Doepfner - whose publishing portfolio includes Europe's best-selling newspaper, the tabloid Bild, as well as the centre-right broadsheet Die Welt - admitted that his own company was completely reliant on Google, a fact that made him and other publishers scared.
"Google's employees are always decidedly friendly to us and other publishing houses, but we don't communicate on a level playing field. How could we? Google doesn't need us. But we need Google."
Doepfner argued that there had been a "fundamental shift in opinion" about Google among European citizens since Edward Snowden had revealed "close connections between big US online providers and the US intelligence agencies" last year.
"No one knows as much about its customers as Google. Even private and business e-mails are read by Gmail and analysed if the need exists," he said.
He described as disconcerting the view, which he attributed to both Schmidt and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in response to the NSA revelations, that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear".
"It stands for a mental attitude and a view of the world that is common in totalitarian regimes, not in free societies," Doepfner said.
"The head of the Stasi or any other secret service in a dictatorship could have come out with a line like that."
Referring to Google's recent acquisition of drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, he said: "Is Google really planning a digital superstate ... ?
"Please, dear Eric, explain to us why this interpretation of what [Google co-founder] Larry Page does and says is just a misunderstanding."
Responding to an opinion piece by Schmidt in the same newspaper, Doepfner denied that his concerns were born of a "Luddite conspiracy theory".
"To criticise Google is not to criticise the internet. Those who are interested in a flawlessly functioning internet have to criticise Google.
"For us as a publishing house the internet is not a threat but one of the greatest chances in recent decades."
Doepfner, a former journalist who edited a string of newspapers, also took to task the work of the European competition regulators, who in February reached a settlement with Google after investigating the company in an antitrust inquiry.
"Will European politicians fold or wake up? Institutions in Brussels have never been as important as they are now," he said, referring to the de facto capital of the European Union.