Stop shooting the messenger

ICOMP has a broad and diverse membership, covering the full spectrum of companies engaged in online commerce, big and small and from 15 different countries. It has also engaged with and found common ground with an even more diverse group of commercial interests including advertisers, telcos, technology companies and online publishers around the world. As part of its mission, it has reached out and spoken to regulators, legislators, consumer groups and every shade of the press.

This disparate group of interests has at least one thing in common. It is highly focussed on the Internet, online commerce and the way search has become the gateway to the Internet and search advertising much of its lifeblood. Above all, it is focussed on the future, on innovation, on investment strategies and how to meet consumer expectations whilst remaining financially viable.

Over the last couple of years the inter-dependencies between this group of stakeholders has become ever more evident. Our understanding of the marvellous and complex creature that the Internet has become is improving, allowing us to join up dots in a way which could not have been done even a short while ago. At the same time, or because of these changes, widespread concern at the risks of monopolisation and consumer harm have become ever more palpable.

In the case of books, hundreds have spoken out including the French and German governments as well as the US Department of Justice. Many brands and advertisers are up in arms over online advertising practices that are seen as fundamentally inappropriate. Online advertisers have seen swathes of print newspapers go out of business and have real problems working out how to corner a fair share of the online wealth being created. Telcos are wondering if the current monopoly in broadband search will be extended to mobile platforms. Competitors to search, search as maps, vertical search and online employment services live in an increasingly uncertain world, wondering if the lights will be turned out on their businesses.

Many of these companies have expressed their concerns at industry fora and in the press. ICOMP, an organisation that has existed for little more than two years, has been accused by Google of being behind the groundswell of concern at Google’s practices and the direct instigator of the large number of complaints currently being examined by competition authorities in Europe and beyond. Google has accused ICOMP of having “a track record of not being open about its motivation and activities” and suggested that its own antitrust woes come “with the territory of being a popular company”.

These are seriously misleading statements. Their purpose can only be to deflect from the real and widespread concerns that are increasingly common in Europe and elsewhere. As readers of this blog and the website on which it appears well know, ICOMP has always taken great pains to be transparent about its mission. Shooting the messenger to avoid having to deal with unpalatable messages is not the way to deal with the serious problems with which online commerce is currently faced. It is time to move on from press briefing and counter-briefing and focus on the issues.

David Wood
ICOMP Legal Counsel

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