A French court has ruled that Google's free Google Maps application is anti-competitive and has ordered the company to pay €500,000 to Bottin Cartographes, a for-pay map company, as well as a €15,000 fine. Bottin Cartographes argued that Google was only planning to give away the service for free until all the competitors had been driven out of business and then they would start charging. This seems implausible to me, and contrary to Google's business model (give away services, make money from mining the use of those services). Google says it will appeal.
"This is the end of a two-year battle, a decision without precedent," said the lawyer for Bottin Cartographes, Jean-David Scemmama.
"We proved the illegality of (Google's) strategy to remove its competitors... the court recognised the unfair and abusive character of the methods used and allocated Bottin Cartographes all it claimed. This is the first time Google has been convicted for its Google Maps application," he said.
I wonder what Bottin Cartographes will do when OpenStreetMaps finishes producing high-quality, free, public domain maps of France?
A good question! Here we see another European court stepping in to protect the interests of doomed companies whose business models have been made irrelevant by the rapidly-evolving tech industry. I find it hard to see the social justification for verdicts like this. All those lawyers' fees and fines, and to what end? To keep a company on life-support for a few more months or years, before it finally collapses owing to the fact that customers can get what it provides elsewhere for free.
Now, of course, Bottin could perhaps survive by transforming itself into a niche mapmaker for specialized applications, but I wonder whether they'll actually do that, since the Google Maps writing has been on the wall for five years now -- and I very much doubt any court in Europe will actually try to ban Google Maps, although it would be exciting to see how that turned out.
Of course, Bottin might protest that Google is using customer data for its nefarious ends, which Bottin would never do. However, as European companies and governments are finding out, ordinary European consumers simply don't care as much about online privacy as many journalists wish they did. All those hand-wringing articles in high-toned newspapers about the horrors of Street View or Facebook's sinister data-mining don't seem to have changed the behavior of ordinary computer users. Of course, those users care somewhat about privacy -- just not enough to pay for inferior mapping, email, and social-networking sites when they can get fast, efficient results free elsewhere.*