UK government launches antitrust investigation of Google-Looker deal

The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority looks into Google's intended acquisition of Looker to determine if it would cause "a substantial lessening of competition."
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

The government of the United Kingdom today announced it's investigating Google's intended acquisition of Looker. The concern, ostensibly, is that Google's acquisition of the business intelligence startup would lessen competition in the cloud computing arena. Google Cloud, under the still freshly-minted leadership of Thomas Kurian, announced its intent to acquire Looker back in June. The deal would help close the gap with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, both of which have strong analytics portfolios and lead Google Cloud in market share.

Also read: Google buys Looker for $2.6 billion, aims to extend its analytics reach, support multiple clouds

Even as the UK approaches a post-Brexit existence, it nonetheless fits into the tapestry of greater European antitrust vigilance of which Google has run afoul. The Mountain View, California-based unit of Alphabet, Inc. has been fined over $9B USD by the European Union in the last two years over its shopping service, Android contracts and core ad business. And now it would appear the EU is launching its own investigation into Google over its Chrome Web browser and data collection.

Also read: Google antitrust: Now the heat's on Chrome as fines run into billions

But public cloud data analytics and browser data collection aren't the same thing. While Google's no angel, the notion that its acquisition of Looker would lessen competition would seem wrong-headed. 

Microsoft has its Power BI product and cloud service which, though technically not part of Azure, serve as prolific recruiting tools for new Azure customers. AWS, with its QuickSight BI service is well behind on the BI/data visualization side. But its cloud prominence generally, and -- with services like Elastic MapReduce, Redshift, and even plain old S3 -- its strength in analytics specifically, make it a juggernaut. Salesforce's acquisition of Tableau, also announced in June and successfully closed in August, is in the game in a serious way as well.

Also read: Salesforce-Tableau, other BI deals flow; the tally's now five in a row

Without Looker, Google's only BI entrant is its Data Studio product, which is more of a data visualization/presentation service augmenting G Suite than it is a full-fledged business intelligence platform. Rather than inhibiting competition, Google needs Looker in order to provide robust competition to AWS and Azure, and I'd argue those players need credible competitive pressure in order to maintain their own pace of innovation.

Regardless, Phase 1 of the UK Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA's) investigation -- invitation to comment -- opens today, and closes on December 20th. The CMA invites written comment "from any interested party" by that deadline. With less than three calendar weeks for comment, perhaps the investigation will conclude quickly. Efficacy aside, the announcement of the investigation shows just how critical data analytics and BI are to the public cloud computing market overall.

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