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Google gets fined by Turkish Competition Board, again: Report

Turkey’s Competition Board has again fined Alphabet Inc’s Google, this time to a tune of more than 296 million Turkish ($36.65 million), for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the search engine services, reported Reuters and Daily Sabah. This is the third time since 2018 that Google has been fined by the country’s regulatory body.

The Turkish competition authority — Rekamet Kurumu (RK) — found that Google had favoured its own accommodation price comparison service and local services over those of competitors. According to an auto-translated copy of the order, the regulator has asked Google to rework its services to enable competition within six months so that competitors are no longer at a disadvantage. Google also has to report compliance to the regulator every year for the next five years.

Google, according to statement quoted by Reuters, offered a rebuttal, claiming that is search services were designed to give consumers more choices, and hence boost competition. “We will evaluate the decision (of the board) and continue working with the Competition Authority by maintaining our usual constructive approach,” Google said.

Not Turkey’s first tussle with Google

This is not the first time that Turkey’s competition regulator has taken on Silicon Valley tech giants. In 2017, it had opened its first investigation into the company following a complaint by competitor Yandex. In September 2018, the regulator issued a fine of 98 million Turkish lira for violating fair competition law by prioritising certain vendors over others. Following that, Google made changes to its contracts in 2019. However, the authority deemed that the changes were not enough and levied a fine of 0.05 per cent of Google’s revenue per day until issues were resolved.

In 2020, Google was fined 196.6 million Turkish lira ($24.3 million) for making it difficult for companies which did not generate advertisement revenue for Google to show up in its searches.

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Google’s advertisement strategies have also come under the scanner of European Union. In 2018, the European Commission fined 4.34 billion euros for violating European antitrust rules following an earlier fine of 2.4 billion in 2017.

Turkey also investigating Facebook, WhatsApp

Not just Google, the regulator has also taken on other tech giants such as Facebook in the recent past. In February 2021, the board announced that it has launched an investigation into privacy practices of Facebook and its messaging and online messaging platform, WhatsApp, prompted by the revision of WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms of service.

The Istanbul Center for Regulation had reasoned that policy changes had created huge public upheaval, wherein users would be compelled to consent to sharing their WhatsApp data with Facebook companies.

International scrutiny on Big Tech

Multiple countries across the world have trained their eyes on Big Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. In fact, just this year, two US Senators (one Republican and Democrat each) have introduced legislation proposing widespread changes to competition law in the country. Democratic Senator’s Amy Klobuchar’s Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act calls for increased enforcement by regulators, and more scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions. Republican Josh Hawley’s bill outright calls for a ban on mergers by companies with more than a $100 billion market cap. Meanwhile, both Google and Facebook are facing massive antitrust suits in the country.

Turkey’s neighbour, the European Union, has been at the forefront of Big Tech regulation. Its legislative body is presently mulling over the Digital Services Act, which will impose new obligations on internet intermediaries, and the Digital Markets Act, which aims to remedy competition issues in the region. Last week, the United Kingdom launched the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) which will work on similar lines.

In India, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has opened multiple investigations into Google. Late last year, it started looking into the company’s payment policies and alleged manipulation into its practice within Play Store. The CCI has also opened an investigation into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

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