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Google Business Chief: I Wake Up and 'Worry About Competition'

We may have 90 percent market share, but we have lots of competition.

Johannes Eisele | Getty Images

In addition to his formal role as head of Google’s business efforts, Philipp Schindler has also been working as a de facto ambassador to his native Europe.

Speaking in Munich on Tuesday, the German-born Googler, who was promoted to head of its $60 billion-plus sales behemoth in August*, offered repeated examples of how the company was playing nice with European media companies and regulators.

To fretful European publishers, Schindler argued that Google was a willing partner, not a competitor, touting its recent mobile publishing platform as an example. He did acknowledge that the search giant has “not always been good at bringing this across” in Europe, where media companies are a reliable nemesis.

But it was his comments on the competition that were the most illuminating — shedding light on how Google sees threats to its core business, and how it is pushing back on antitrust charges in Europe.

“Competition and technology — and competition amongst technology platforms — is as intense as anything I’ve ever witnessed in the last ten years,” Schindler said during a talk at the DLD conference here.

He described Google’s business approach as “horizontal,” working with partners, like publishers and Android handset makers, to distribute its services. He countered that with the “vertically integrated” tactics of others. “The reality is the Apples and Facebooks and WeChats of this world have a different view,” he said. (Do note the mention of China’s WeChat!)

Schindler also highlighted how competition takes many forms. “If you’re a 16 year old in India unwrapping your first phone,” Schindler said, “even if it’s an Android — if the first thing you do is use WhatsApp or Instagram or Facebook, the reality is, that is significant competition for us as a company.”

Google and its shadow of competition issues have hung over DLD, commingling with the top-of-mind concerns about data and privacy protections. In the opening keynote, European Union competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that big data could become an antitrust issue if the companies that have it are able to use their insights to cut costs in ways that rivals cannot. Meanwhile, News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson claimed that antitrust cases against Google, like the one Vestager is currently leading, are justifiable.

When asked about the EU case specifically, though, Schindler declined to comment.

But what better way to dispute the charges than point to rivals aplenty? It has been Google’s tactic in responding to the EU. It was Schindler’s tactic, too. He reiterated his point that Google is far from a monopoly, noting that intense rivalries extend to other key Google initiatives, like self-driving cars and machine learning.

“If I wake up in the middle of the night,” he said, “I worry about competition.”

* Per his latest promotion, Schindler is SVP of Global Sales and Operations. But onstage on Tuesday, he claimed, “I’m actually the chief business officer.” So we’ll go with that!

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