From today, Google searches will start looking very different in America and Europe

Google and European Commission wrap up antitrust investigation.

Today, Google has come to an agreement with the European Commission over an antitrust investigation that started two years ago: for the first time it will make changes to the way searches are done.

The investigation had four concerns:

1. Google automatically put results from its own company - like Google News or Google Plus Local - ahead of those from rival firms.

2. Google had been scraping content from rivals.

3. Google had made deals with various websites that affected the order of links in a search.

4. Google had made it difficult for advertisers to transfer campaigns to other search engines.

..and has now addressed them in the following way:

1. Google will have to clearly label search results from its own company -  and to run them alongside links from rival companies.

2. Competitors will be able to opt out of Google’s specialist services, without being penalised via search priority.

3. These deals will go.

4. Transferring campaigns will be made easier.

The changes will come in gradually over the next month, leaving time for rivals to state any further problems they have, and will be legally binding for five years. Interestingly though, the changes are to be far more stringent than those made by US regulators, who closed an antitrust investigation back in January after finding Google had not violated any anti-trust statutes. One fall-out of the changes then will be that Google search will look different depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. Soon, American searchers will be operating in a more Google-centric world than the rest of us.


Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.