Google fined €2.4bn by EU watchdog

What happened?

The European Commission has fined Google ¤2.4bn (£2.1bn) for abusing its search dominance to disadvantage online shopping rivals. The complainants in the long-running case allege that Google promoted its own shopping services above independent alternatives, hitting their traffic by 85% in the UK. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” said EC competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. “It denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”

Although the fine is a record from the EC for ‘antitrust’ issues, it amounts to just 2.5% of the web giant’s annual revenue, and Google could have been hit with a punishment of up to 10%.

The fine is based on Google’s comparison shopping revenue from
13 countries, and the company could be liable for further fines of ¤10.6m (£9.3m) a day if it doesn’t resolve the situation within 90 days. Google has denied the EC’s findings and says it is reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

How will it affect you?

If Google doesn’t appeal against the decision, the search results you see when shopping online will change. At the moment, if you search for a specific product, you’re likely to see a Google carousel of different online stores. That’s likely to disappear in favour of other shopping options, to appease European regulators.

This isn’t the only case before the EC. Google also faces an investigation into claims that its AdSense advertising products limit consumer choice, while a third case involves the inclusion of Google services such as search in Android, which the EC says is unfair.

What do we think?

This long-running case may not yet be over, depending on whether Google decides to fight back with an appeal, but it’s safe to say that Vestager isn’t winning any fans in Silicon Valley. She’s already been accused of anti-American sentiment for targeting corporate dominance, but European consumers should applaud her. Vestager is willing to stand up to the web giants in a way we haven’t seen before in the name of consumer rights rather than corporate cash or power. Tech firms, wherever they’re from, shouldn’t be allowed to ride roughshod over local laws, and it’s good to have at least one regulator watching closely to ensure they don’t.

We’ll take a closer look at the darker, greedier side of Google in next issue’s cover feature, and will be recommending products and services you can use instead.

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