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Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Google it

The term ‘Google it’ is now part of everyday language. If there is ever something you don’t know, the quickest, easiest, most cost-effective and often the best way to find the answer is to go to Google. While there are many other search engines that provide similar functions and similar results, Google was revolutionary as a search engine and as a business model.

This article by Tim Harford, writing for BBC News, looks at the development of Google as a business and as a search engine. One of the reasons why Google is so effective for individuals and businesses is the speed with which information can be obtained. It is therefore used extensively to search key terms and this is one of the ways Google was able to raise advertising revenue. The business model developed to raise finance has therefore been a contributing factor to the decline in newspaper advertising revenue.

Google began the revolution in terms of search of engines and, while others do exist, Google is a classic example of a dominant firm and that raises certain problems. The article looks at many aspects of Google.

Just google it: The student project that changed the world BBC News, Tim Harford (27/03/17)

Questions

  1. Is Google a natural monopoly? What are the characteristics of a natural monopoly and how does this differ from a monopoly?
  2. Are there barriers to entry in the market in which Google operates?
  3. What are the key determinants of demand for Google from businesses and individuals?
  4. Why do companies want to advertise via Google? How might the reasons differ from advertising in newspapers?
  5. Why has there been a decline in advertising in newspapers? How do you think this has affected newspapers’ revenue and profits?
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Up in the cloud

Cloud computing is growing rapidly and has started to dominate many parts of the IT market. Cloud revenues are rising at around 25% per year and, according to Jeremy Duke of Synergy Research Group:

“Major barriers to cloud adoption are now almost a thing of the past, especially on the public-cloud side. Cloud technologies are now generating massive revenues for technology vendors and cloud service providers, and yet there are still many years of strong growth ahead.”

The market leader in cloud services (as opposed to cloud hardware) is Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon. At the end of 2016, it had a market share of around 40%, larger than the next three competitors (Microsoft, Google and IBM), combined. AWS originated cloud computing some 10 years ago. It is set to have generated revenue of $13 billion in 2016.

The cloud computing services market is an oligopoly, with a significant market leader, AWS. But is the competition from other players in the market, including IT giants, such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, enough to guarantee that the market stays competitive and that prices will fall as technology improves and costs fall?

Certainly all the major players are investing heavily in new services, better infrastructure and marketing. And they are already established suppliers in other sectors of the IT market. Microsoft and Google, in particular, are strong contenders to AWS. Nevertheless, as the first article states:

Neither Google nor Microsoft have an easy task since AWS will continue to be an innovation machine with a widely recognized brand among the all-important developer community. Both Amazon’s major competitors have an opportunity to solidify themselves as strong alternatives in what is turning into a public cloud oligopoly.

Articles
While Amazon dominates cloud infrastructure, an oligopoly is emerging. Which will buyers bet on? diginomica, Kurt Marko (16/2/17)
Study: AWS has 45% share of public cloud infrastructure market — more than Microsoft, Google, IBM combined GeekWire, Dan Richman (31/10/16)
Cloud computing revenues jumped 25% in 2016, with strong growth ahead, researcher says GeekWire, Dan Richman (4/1/17)

Data
Press releases Synergy Research Group

Questions

  1. Distinguish the different segments of the cloud computing market.
  2. What competitive advantages does AWS have over its major rivals?
  3. What specific advantages does Microsoft have in the cloud computing market?
  4. Is the amount of competition in the cloud computing market enough to prevent the firms from charging excessive prices to their customers? How might you assess what is ‘excessive’?
  5. What barriers to entry are there in the cloud computing market? Should they be a worry for competition authorities?
  6. Are the any network economies in cloud computing? What might they be?
  7. Cloud computing is a rapidly developing industry (for example, the relatively recent development of cloud containers). How does the speed of development impact on competition?
  8. How would market saturation affect competition and the behaviour of the major players?
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Taxing times for Google

Some of the largest companies around the world operate in multiple locations. This allows them to take advantage of wider markets, cheaper transport and of course, lower taxes. In many cases, we see companies selling in one country, but locating their Headquarters in another, where tax rates are cheaper and hence their tax bills are lower. Much criticism has been levelled at such companies, who are accused of not paying their fair share in tax. There has been a crackdown on these companies and the UK is playing a leading role in this tightening of tax laws. Google is the latest company to face a large payment in backdated taxes.

This is a company with a complex structure, which has involved Bermuda as a key location, with its zero rate of corporation tax and a Irish European base. Though locating its business in different countries is legal, it has now agreed to pay HMRC £130 million in back taxes from 2005, following a 6 year investigation. Google will also change its accounting system such that it pays more tax in Britain for sales in this country.

Google may be the first in a line of companies making such changes to its accounting practices following a global drive to tackle the low levels of taxes paid by these large companies. This change in tax rules may bring welcome relief to government coffers, though criticisms remain about the ‘real’ figure that Google owes. As an example of this: in 2013, Google’s UK revenues were $5.6bn. Yet it only paid £20.5m in tax on its UK profits. The Head of Google Europe, Matt Brittin said:

“The rules are changing internationally and the UK government is taking the lead in applying those rules so we’ll be changing what we are doing here. We want to ensure that we pay the right amount of tax.”

Mr Brittin was clear in saying that these back dated taxes are not evidence that they had been paying too little tax in previous years. He confirmed that they were abiding by tax laws at the time and that tax laws are now changing and hence so will the amount of tax they pay. He continued:

“I think there was concern that international companies were paying only in respect of profits that they make and those were the rules and the pressure was to see us pay in respect of the sales we make to UK customers – and the same for other companies…So, we are making a change because we want to continue to comply with the rules and the rules are changing.”

As the push to tighten tax laws changes, with firms paying more tax on sales as well as profits, we may observe more companies changing their accounting structures. The OECD has taken a big step in simplifying international tax laws and the coming years will tell us just how big an impact this will have and whether companies such as Google will face tax bills in other European countries as well. The following articles consider this taxing matter.

Google agrees £130m UK tax deal with HMRC BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (23/01/16)
Google strikes £130m back tax deal Financial Times, John Gapper (22/01/16)
Google strikes deal with UK tax authority Wall Street Journal, Sam Schechner and Stephen Fidler (23/01/16)
Google agrees to pay HMRC £130m in back taxes The Guardian, Kevin Rawlinson (23/01/16)
Google tax labelled ‘derisory’ by Labour’s John McDonnell BBC News (23/01/16)
Google to pay £130 million UK back taxes, critics want more Reuters, Tom Bergin (23/01/16)
Google to pay UK £130m in back taxes The Telegraph (22/01/16)
Google says it will pay £130m in back taxes Independent, Adam Barnett (23/01/16)
Google ‘agrees’ to pay £130m in extra UK tax after outrage when it coughed up just £20m on UK sales of nearly £4bn Mail Online, Imogen Calderwood (22/01/16)
Google agrees to pay $185 million in UK tax settlement Bloomberg, Brian Womack (23/01/16)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between a tax on sales and a tax on profits?
  2. How can companies legally avoid tax? Do you think they have a moral duty to pay tax?
  3. If firms face higher rates of taxation, how will this affect their costs and profits?
  4. Why are the larger multinationals, such as Google more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
  5. Do you think the problem of tax avoidance is one of the negative consequences of globalisation?
  6. Is the criticism about the ‘low’ amount of taxes paid to HMRC justified?
  7. The OECD has taken a leading role in tightening international tax policy. Do you think this will negatively impact the competitiveness of the global market place?
  8. What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
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Avoiding questions of tax avoidance

If you ask most people whether they like paying tax, the answer would surely be a resounding ‘no’. If asked would you like to pay less tax, most would probably say ‘yes’. Evidence of this can be seen in the behaviour of individuals and of companies, as they aim to reduce their tax bill, through both legal and illegal methods.

Our tax revenues are used for many different things, ranging from the provision of merit goods to the redistribution of income, so for most people they don’t object to paying their way. However, maintaining profitability and increasing disposable income is a key objective for companies and individuals, especially in weak economic times. Some high profile names have received media coverage due to accusations of both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Starbucks, Amazon, Googe and Apple are just some of the big names that have been accused of paying millions of pounds/dollars less in taxation than they should, due to clever (and often legal) methods of avoiding tax.

The problem of tax avoidance has become a bigger issue in recent years with the growth of globalisation. Multinationals have developed to dominate the business world and business/corporation tax rates across the global remain very different. Thus, it is actually relatively easy for companies to reduce their tax burden by locating their headquarters in low tax countries or ensuring that business contracts etc. are signed in these countries. By doing this, any profits are subject to the lower tax rate and are thus such companies are accused of depriving the government of tax revenue. Apple is currently answering questions posed by a US Senate Committee, having been accused of structuring its business to create ‘the holy grail of tax avoidance’.

Many may consider the above and decide that these companies have done little wrong. After all, many schemes aimed at tax avoidance are legal and are often just a clever way of using the system. However, in a business environment dominated by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, the impact of tax avoidance may not just be on the government’s coffers. Indeed John McCain, one of the Committee members asked:

…Couldn’t one draw the conclusion that you and Apple have an unfair advantage over domestic based corporations and companies, in other words, smaller companies in this country that don’t have the same ability that you do to locate in Ireland or other countries overseas?

The concern is that with such ability to avoid huge amounts of taxation, large companies will inevitably compete smaller ones out of the market. Local businesses, without the ability to re-locate to other parts of the world, pay their full tax bills, but multinationals legally (in most cases) manage to avoid paying their own share. With a harsh economic climate continuing globally, these large companies that aim to further increase their profitability through such means as tax avoidance will naturally bear the wrath of smaller businesses and individuals that are struggling to get by. It’s likely that this topic will remain in the media for some time. The following articles consider some of the companies accused of participating in tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of doing so.

Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook defends tax strategy in Senate BBC News (21/5/13)
Senator accuses Apple of ‘highly questionable’ billion-dollar tax avoidance scheme The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook faces tax avoidance questions Sky News (21/5/13)
EU leaders look to end Apple-style tax avoidance schemes Reuters, Luke Baker and Mark John (21/5/13)
Apple Chief Tim Cook defends tax practices and denies avoidance Financial Times, James Politi (21/5/13)
Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Senate: tiny tax bill isn’t our fault, it’s yours Independent, Nikhil Kumar (21/5/13)
Miliband promises action on Google tax avoidance The Telegraph (19/5/13)
Google is cheating British tax payers out of millions…what they are doing is just immoral’: Web giant accused of running ‘scandalous’ tax avoidance scheme by whistleblower Mail Online, Becky Evans (19/5/13)
Multinational CEOs tell David Cameron to rein in tax avoidance rhetoric The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Lawrie Holmes and Rajeev Syal (20/5/13)
Fury at corporate tax avoidance leads to call for a global response The Guardian, Tracy McVeigh (18/5/13)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? Is it rational to engage in such schemes?
  2. What are tax revenues used for?
  3. Why are multinationals more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
  4. Is the problem of tax avoidance a negative consequence of globalisation?
  5. How might the actions of large multinationals who are avoiding paying large amounts of tax affect the competitiveness of the global market place?
  6. Is there justification for a global policy response to combat the issue of tax avoidance?
  7. What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
  8. How would a more ‘reasonable’ tax on foreign earnings allow the ‘free movement of capital back to the US’?
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Microsoft breaks promise to the European Commission

Since the late 1990s the European Commission (EC) has been concerned with trying to prevent Microsoft from abusing its dominant position. As described previously on this site, in the latest instalment last week Microsoft was fined for accidentally failing to adhere to an earlier commitment automatically to allow Windows users a choice of web browser.

This is the first case of fines being imposed for failure to comply with commitments required by the EC. In part because of Microsoft’s compliance, the fine imposed was well below the maximum level it could have been. However, it still means that Microsoft has now in total contributed enough to the EC’s coffers to cover the competition department’s budget for over 20 years.

Commitments appear to be increasingly the EC’s preferred solution for resolving competition disputes, especially in the rapidly changing IT sector (see for example Google and e-books). In contrast to a lengthy litigation process, in theory such commitments can quickly fix the problem and increase competition. The EC hopes that the fine imposed on Microsoft will send clear signals to firms that agreed upon commitments must be adhered to. However, this case also highlights that behavioural commitments require close monitoring by the competition authorities. As one industry consultant argues:

While it’s highly likely that it was a technical mistake that broke the browser choice facility the fact that it remained broken for 14 months raises significant questions about Microsoft’s ability and willingness to comply with the voluntary agreement with the EU.

At the same time the situation also raises concerns over the EU’s ability to actually monitor the outcomes of antitrust agreements.

Microsoft offers web browser choice to IE users BBC News (19/02/10)
Microsoft faces hefty EU fine The Guardian (06/03/13)
Microsoft fined €561m for ‘browser choice’ error The Guardian, Charles Arthur (06/03/13)

Questions

  1. Why is it essential that competition disputes in the IT sector are quickly resolved?
  2. What are the problems with monitoring company behaviour in this sector?
  3. What are the pros and cons of agreeing commitments rather than litigation for competition law infringements?
  4. How might Microsoft respond to this latest fine from the EC?
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Nokia’s phone battle

Nokia is finding out just how competitive the phone industry is, as it sees its third quarter figures come in at a loss. Google and Apple have seen their market shares rise and this has had an adverse effect on the Finnish company, Nokia. This goes some way to backing up the job losses seen earlier in the year, when 7000 jobs were cut and there was a re-allocation of workers towards ‘smartphones’.

Despite Nokia’s disappointing results in this sector, it has seen growth in its sales of other more simple phones, illustrating its ability to focus on this aspect of the market. Its sales were higher than forecast at 107 million handsets in the third quarter, showing some signs of a changing trend for the firm. However, with competition ever increasing, Nokia will need to consider its future strategy very carefully.

Nokia reports lower-than-estimated loss as profit forecast for phone unit Bloomberg, Diana Ben-Aaron (20/10/11)
Nokia swings to loss in third quarter BBC News (20/10/11)
Nokia boosted by sales of cheap handsets Financial Times, Daniel Thomas (20/10/11)
Nokia beats forecasts with sales of 107m phones Guardian, Juliette Garside and Charles Arthur (20/10/11)
Nokia prepares for ‘solid’ windows phone launch Telegraph, Matt Warman (25/10/11)

Questions

  1. How would you describe Nokia’s strategy of focusing on cheaper and simpler phones?
  2. Would you say Nokia’s strategy is sensible? What factors will determine its success?
  3. How have Apple and Google managed to expand their market share and become serious competitors to firms like Nokia?
  4. Into which market structure would you classify the phone industry?
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Anyone for an Apple?

Apple and Google: two well known brands that appear everywhere, but which is the most valuable? For the past few years, the answer to that question has been Google, but with recent product developments, including the iPad, Apple has overtaken Google to become the world’s most valuable brand. This information comes from a recent study by Millward Brown, which found that Apple’s brand is now worth some £94 billion ($153.3bn), which is up about 84% on the previous year.

The study showed that of the top 10 brands, 6 were technology and telecoms companies, which is further evidence of the move towards the technology-based economy. Another interesting trend to come out of the report is the development of the emerging markets, with 6 more companies coming from emerging economies compared to last year. Indeed 12 of the top global companies came from China. Besides Google and Apple, who occupy the top 2 places, other companies in the top 10 include Coca-cola, McDonalds, IBM, Microsoft and General Electric. The following articles look at this overtaking move by Apple.

Apple brand value at $153 billion overtakes Google for top spot Bloomberg, Tim Culpan (9/5/11)
Jobs well done: Apple overtakes Google as the world’s most valuable brand Daily Mail (9/5/11)
Apple overtakes Google as top brand: Study Market Watch, Dan Gallagher (9/5/11)
Success of iPad helps Apple topple Google as No 1 brand Independent, Stephen Foley (10/5/11)
Apple overtakes Google as world’s ‘most valuable’ brand Telegraph (9/5/11)

Questions

  1. How reliable is this study and how is the value of a brand measured?
  2. What factors have contributed to Apple’s climb up the tables? Is it because of Apple’s good work or problems faced by Google?
  3. What are the main trends to come out of the study?
  4. What might explain the growing presence of fast food companies in the top 100?
  5. Why is there a growing presence of companies from emerging markets in the top 100?
  6. Should Google be concerned about this report and what could be done to reverse the situation next year?
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Microsoft versus Google

There has been an ongoing battle between Microsoft and Google for many years in the technology industry. Microsoft have received many fines in countless anti-trust cases, but Microsoft has now taken the upper hand in the most recent development, after filing its first official complaint with the regulators against Google. Microsoft is claiming that Google’s actions are restricting competition in the market and thereby abusing its dominant position. This complaint follows numerous complaints by small businesses. Microsoft’s Brad Smith said that they had been forced to act because of a:

“broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative”.

Google controls approximately 95% of the European search engine market and complaints have focused on actions that Google have taken to restrict competition, further its dominance in the market and thereby harm consumers. The European Commission is already investigating Google and will continue to discuss the case with all parties involved.

Microsoft takes on Google with antitrust complaint Guardian, Mark Sweney (31/3/11)
Minnow Microsoft v the Google giant BBC News Blog, Rory Cellan-Jones (31/3/11)
Adding our voice to concerns about search in Europe Microsoft Blog, Brad Smith (30/3/11)
Microsoft accuses Google of antitrust violations CNN Money, David Goldman (31/3/11)

Questions

  1. What constitutes a dominant position? In what forms can a firm abuse its dominant position?
  2. What is the purpose of anti-trust laws and competition policy?
  3. To what extent are Google’s actions against consumer’s interests?
  4. What anti-competitive practices have Google been accused of? Explain how each is against consumer’s interests and against the interests of its competitors.
  5. What are (a) the arguments for keeping interest rates at 0.5% and (b) the arguments for raising interest rates? Who wins and loses in each case?
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Try googling ‘Google’

Everyone knows about ‘Google’ – a search engine. But, if you’ve happened to google ‘Google’ recently, you’ll be aware that it is being investigated by the European Commission, following claims by other search engines that it is abusing its dominant position.

It is not against the law to have a monopoly, but anti-trust legislation does make it illegal to abuse that dominant position. Those making the complaints argue that Google manipulates its search results and puts competing services further down the page whenever you search for something. The investigation has been launched following:

“complaints by search service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.”

Google operates two services: unpaid results and ads. The investigation will aim to see whether the method that Google uses to generate unpaid results is to the detriment of its competitors. The following articles look at this issue.

EU to launch Google search investigation Guardian, Mark Sweney (30/11/10)
EU launches antitrust probe into alleged Google abuse BBC News (30/11/10)
EU launches investigation into allegations that Google abuses its dominance of internet search Telegraph, Rupert Neate (30/11/10)
Google faces European Competition Inquiry BBC News (24/02/10)
EU launches Google investigation after complaints Reuters (30/11/10)

Questions

  1. What are the characteristics of a monopoly? Why is it argued to be against the consumer’s interest?
  2. To what extent does Google have a monopoly over internet searches?
  3. What is the purpose of the investigation into Google? If Google is found guilty of ‘abusing its dominant position’, what action could be taken?
  4. Why is competition argued to be a good thing? Could the EU’s investigation actually not be in the interests of the public?
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