One of the largest skeptics to emerge following Edward Snowden’s leaks of the NSA’s data collection practices has been Europe, which is understandable considering the continent’s public officials and private citizens alike were found to have been victims of U.S. surveillance. While European countries have diplomatic interest in being skeptical of the U.S. government, they have been similarly leery towards private American tech companies.
In Europe's ongoing fight to protect privacy, no villain has been larger than Google. Earlier this year, the E.U.’s highest court ruled that individuals could request the removal of information that shows up in the search engine after entering one’s own name. More recently, the European commission pressed to revisit a Google anti-trust sentiment, arguing that the site needs to more fairly allow room for competition in its search results. The commission alleges that Google gives unfair advantage to its own products, with YouTube, Google Maps and other searches appearing ahead of or instead of results from competitors.
While citizens in the U.S. have shown skepticism towards the government for privacy-infringing practices, the policies of private companies need to be in the discussion as well. Google is the country’s most popular search engine (and the world’s), a frightening fact considering it serves as the gatekeeper to the public's access of information.
The American fight to keep the internet open and fair has primarily been focused on net neutrality, an undeniably important cause. Net neutrality is the reason a company like Google has the opportunity to become the most popular search engine in the country, and the same reason a company offering more balanced and fair search results could potentially surpass it.
The reality, however, is that the landscape of the Internet in America mimics that of its current corporate structure: power and control is dispersed amongst just a few companies. Google is one of the giants, with an agenda that thus far shows no signs of corruption but should still be watched closely.
In order to ensure the public has fair and equal access to information online, new types of regulation are going to have to emerge to solve problems that didn't exist 10-20 years ago. There's no easy answer — especially considering any limitation on a company's freedom would go against the nature of a free and open Internet — but at least Europe has begun the conversation with innovative thinking in regards to tech regulation. The United States hasn't reached the point yet where it needs to act in a similar manner, but it should be paying attention to the way things work out abroad.