On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. However, his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon.com Inc. He is bothered by the way the US online retailer treats its warehouse employees.
Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.
“It depends on the price,” said Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a US$400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French Web sites.
“If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside,” he said.
Across Europe, love — or at least acceptance — often wins out in the love-hate relationship with US tech companies like Amazon, Facebook Inc and Google Inc.
Despite their often vocal criticism of these behemoths, people in the region are some of the most active and loyal users of US social networks, search engines and e-commerce Web sites. They are often even more hooked on the services than Americans are.
Google now has an 85 percent market share for search in the region’s five largest economies, including Britain, France and Germany, compared with less than 80 percent in 2009, according to the research company comScore. Google’s share of the US market stands at about 65 percent.
Facebook — the target of several government investigations for its tax practices in Europe — has also more than doubled its number of European users to more than 150 million in the past five years, and the social network’s European user numbers now outpace US figures, social media research company eMarketer said.
US tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited Web sites in Europe, comScore statistics showed. From Europe, only Yandex and Mail.ru, a Russian search engine and an e-mail site, and Axel Springer, the German publisher of Die Welt and Bild, make the list.
Nonetheless, from Spain to Sweden, many of Europe’s millions of Internet users regularly complain about the dominance of US tech companies, particularly about how users’ data is used and shared. It also leaves them wondering why so few home-grown tech companies are globally competitive.
For many Europeans, the likes of Twitter Inc and Amazon hold too much information about what people do online. That wariness has only grown stronger after the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about US intelligence agencies’ spying activities and demonstrated easy access to the world’s tech infrastructure.
In some ways, Europeans are pushing back.
Last month, Google started removing some links to online search results after Europe’s highest court ruled that the company had to give people the right to request that information be taken down.
And the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is finishing new rules — tougher than those currently in force in the US — intended to strengthen the region’s privacy protections for online data.
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Still, Europeans are loath to leave the services they deride.
For Stuart Turnbull, 42, a writer who lives two hours north of Edinburgh, Scotland, a reliance on US tech companies has become the cost of doing business.
Turnbull once tried to shut down his Facebook account after realizing that he was spending too much time sharing posts and comments. Yet as he looked to build contacts with other writers and editors around the world, Turnbull, who works from a home office in the small town of Crieff, soon changed his mind. He even opened a second Facebook account dedicated to his literary career.
While he remains concerned about how tech companies use his online data, the ability to tap into the global networks offered by the likes of Facebook and Twitter is too enticing a prospect to turn down.
“I accept that my data may be mined,” Turnbull said, adding that he is more worried about companies potentially abusing his information than about governments accessing his online data. “It’s the price you pay for using these so-called ‘free services.’”
In many ways, the US companies face little competition. For example, several regional e-commerce sites like the British fashion company ASOS have challenged Amazon, but have yet to compete with the breadth of products — and discounts — offered by the US company.
European social networks, particularly in Germany, once dominated online communication, but gradually fell out of favor as Facebook’s global reach grew.
Government efforts, including a French plan to create a state-backed search engine to compete with Google, have also failed to take off.
However, not every European has succumbed to the dominance of the US tech companies.
Six months ago, Russell Albert, 43, a British software engineer, started thinking that the ads displayed next to his Google search results were too closely based on his Internet search history. He switched to using smaller, lesser-known search engines and began looking for alternatives to other Google products, like its popular e-mail service.
Surfing the Web may not be as easy with these other services, Albert said, but he is still glad he switched.
“I hated being completely ‘Googled up,’” he said. “I decided that I didn’t want to have all my eggs in just one basket.”
After Facebook’s purchase of the messaging service WhatsApp, rumors abounded that European users of the messaging service would flee, fearing that Facebook would gain access to their personal information despite reassurances from the company that it would keep WhatsApp user data separate.
Yet six months after the announcement of the deal, WhatsApp says its user numbers have increased to half a billion — many of them Europeans.
Among them is Lara Goldsworthy, 31, a marketing manager from Hamburg, Germany.
“WhatsApp would have been the first service that I would have left, but I didn’t,” Goldsworthy said, adding that many of her German friends — seemingly without irony — took to Facebook to complain about the social network’s acquisition of the messaging service.
“I realized,” she said, “that I had given up my privacy a long time ago.”
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