There is, in Germany, a law under which companies must provide a way for customers to communicate with them. And so, on Friday, a German court ruled that Google.de can no longer respond to customer service emails with an automated response saying that Google gets so many emails that it will not answer, or even bother to read, yours.*
The decision is but a small part of a larger German pushback against Google. Earlier in the week, Germany, along with France, put pressure on the EU antitrust authorities not to settle with Google over its search practices.
The deal, which EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia supported after its announcement back in February, would have allowed Google to avoid $6 million worth of fines by displaying the services of its rivals comparably to how it displays its own in search results. Instead, a variety of EU politicians—including the German economic minister—have urged that the EU seek “fresh concessions” from Google in the fourth round of such talks. German media associations and publishing houses were particularly vocal about their discontent with the proposed settlement. Axel Springer, for example, publishes Germany’s largest-circulation newspaper, Bild, and owns, among other websites, a shopping comparison site that has been adversely affected by Google.
For obvious reasons, Germans are sensitive to issues of privacy and overreach, creating a serious trust issue for Google. In an open letter, Matthias Doepfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, wrote, “Google knows more about every digitally active citizen than George Orwell dared to imagine in his wildest dreams in 1984.”
But neither matters of trust nor antitrust are likely to be resolved soon in Germany for Google.
*Correction, Sept. 12, 2014: This post originally misstated that Google.de will no longer be allowed to send automated responses claiming Google gets so many emails “it will answer, or even bother to read, yours.” The automated response is “it will not answer, or even bother to read, yours.”