European Commission

Google fined 1.49 billion euro for further Antitrust Violations

The European Commission has fined Google €1.49bn following an antitrust investigation into Google’s ‘anti-competitive’ behaviour in online ad market. The probe, led by the European Union’s antitrust czar Margrethe Vestager, looked into accusations that Google had spent 10 years trying to prevent websites from using the advertising services of its rivals.

Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner, said the Alphabet subsidiary had imposed anti-competitive restrictions on third-party websites between 2006 and 2016.

“The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate — and consumers the benefits of competition,” she said, adding that the fine reflected the duration and gravity of the infringement.

The case against Google

The case focused on Google’s AdSense business, which generates text advertisements for third-party websites based on the searches performed on their sites. In 2006, Google told certain websites they would have to use AdSense exclusively if they wanted to include a Google search box on their site.

The company relaxed its restrictions in 2009, allowing websites to show competing advertisements, but required they also displayed a minimum number of Google ads in prime spots and gave Google the right to authorise changes to competitors’ ads. The terms were eventually dropped in 2016.

The AdSense text-ad business has been in decline as online advertisements have shifted to picture and video formats and to ads that track users. While only a small number of websites were held to the terms, they were “the commercially most significant websites” representing half the market turnover from 2006 to 2016, according to the commission.

During this decade, Ms Vestager found that Google was dominant in search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA), with an average market share of about 85 per cent.

The fine closes the last running EU competition probe into Google and comes as Ms Vestager is due to stand down as competition commissioner and hand over to a successor in November.

In June 2017, the EU fined Google €2.4bn for favouring its own shopping service above rivals and in 2018 it was hit with a €4.3bn penalty for restrictive terms for Android phonemakers.

Google is trying to pre-empt any further EU competition probes by overhauling how it displays certain search results in Europe and is offering Android users a choice of browser and search app on their phones.

“We’ve been listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting, both from the European Commission, and from others. As a result, over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to our products in Europe,” said Kent Walker, senior vice-president of global affairs at Alphabet.

Users in the EEA began last week to see links to rival websites above Google’s answer box for searches for products, jobs or businesses in their local area. The rival links also appear above paid results links to Google’s own services.

Google did not immediately say if it would appeal the fine, but has appealed its two previous EU cases.

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