Google’s antitrust fine in Europe: The denouement of a David versus Goliath

Battle joined: Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager changed tack and pursued the case vigorously. AFP  

In 2009, barely a few years after they had started a price comparison site called Foundem, Shivaun and Adam Raff moved the European Commission with a complaint against Google. Their plaint was that the Internet search giant had favoured its own shopping service in search results, burying that of its rivals.

On Tuesday, almost eight years after the Raffs’ complaint, the Commission decided to slap a record fine of about $2.7 billion, concluding, as it put in a release, that “Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.”

The case had seemed poised for an amicable settlement in early 2014, when Google agreed to display the links of rivals alongside its own. Joaquin Almunia, the then competition commissioner, noted in a release that “Google has finally accepted to guarantee that whenever it promotes its own specialised search services on the page, the services of rivals will also be displayed in a comparable way.” This was not before indicating that he was for settling this issue through ensuring binding commitments rather than an adversarial path.

Mr. Almunia couldn’t get this deal ratified and before long, his term came to an end. Public opinion in Europe around this time, media reports note, turned against Google, in the backdrop of, among other things, Edward Snowden’s revealations that the National Security Agency in the U.S. had tapped the German chancellor’s phone.

Also, by this time, the number of official complaints against Google had increased to 19, as a 2015 Reuters report noted. The list of complainants included Microsoft, consumer review site Yelp, and travel site Expedia.

Within six months of taking over, Margrethe Vestager sent Google a Statement of Objections, a formal step in antitrust investigations. This was a reversal of the path taken by her predecessor Mr. Almunia. Tuesday’s decision marks a culmination of that process.

More cases

Two more cases against Google are still being investigated. One is related to Android. A release noted that “the Commission is concerned that Google has stifled choice and innovation in a range of mobile apps and services by pursuing an overall strategy on mobile devices to protect and expand its dominant position in general internet search.” The second is AdSense, “where the Commission is concerned that Google has reduced choice by preventing third-party websites from sourcing search ads from Google’s competitors.”

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 9:40:18 AM |

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