The $5.1 billion fine levied by the EU against Google last week seems like a lot of money, but it's important to remember that it's only a fraction of Google's annual earnings of $110.9 billion. As Bloomberg has noted, the fine represents about 16 days of earnings for the tech titan.
But it's fair to ask how Google ran afoul of European law and whether a fine of that extraordinary amount is justified. Essentially, the EU claimed that Google had unfairly used its Android operating system to push its other products and services on European consumers. Oddly, the EU seemed to have no problem with Apple and BlackBerry deploying similar tactics.
Google's enormous scale undoubtedly played a role in the EU's decision. Android is the operating system used in 80 percent of the world's mobile phones, creating unparalleled leverage for Google.
"The European Commission's report says that it views Android as different from, say, Apple's iOS or BlackBerry's mostly defunct BlackBerry OS since those are exclusive, vertically integrated operating systems that can't be licensed by third-party device manufacturers. Essentially, Apple can't be held accountable for restricting itself to use its own apps on its own OS," writes Chaim Gartenberg in The Verge. "Since Google does make Android available to others, and is (in the opinion of the commission) using those companies and their devices to further increase Google search's market dominance and mobile ad revenue, it's on the hook here."
From my perspective, however, Google's problems in Europe are a sideshow. For Google, the big fine is a headache, but it's not an existential threat.
The real problem for Google is China, not the EU. In Europe, Google competes against a handful of other companies. In China, Google competes against an entire nation. China has stacked the deck against Google in many ways, and it's unlikely that Google will ever be able to compete successfully against its Chinese counterparts.
The restrictions on Google have more than just a financial impact. They have a profound influence on the course of technology evolution. By restricting Google's access to the world's largest market, China has effectively limited the amount of data Google can collect.
Why does that matter? It matters because data is the raw material from which artificial intelligence is created. You cannot train cognitive models without data. In a very real and tangible sense, AI feeds on data. By restricting Google's access to its data, China constrains Google's ability to develop its AI capabilities.
AI will play a huge role in future economic development, and China is clearly fighting for control of the future. Google's problems in Europe are painful, but they won't change the course of history. Google's problems in China are another matter.