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No relief for Google in EU antitrust case that alleges preferential treatment in search results

The appeal was against a 2017 ruling that held Google guilty of anti-competitive practices in 13 EU countries.

Four years after it was levied and subsequently appealed, the European General Court on November 10 upheld the European Commission’s whopping $2.7 billion fine on Google, according to a press release.

Google was accused of favourably placing its own comparison shopping service over others, thereby reducing the traffic of competing services. The General Court rejected Google’s defense that this happened due to the presence of merchant platforms (online sales platforms like Amazon, eBay) or due to Google’s inability to ‘provide the equal treatment the commission wanted’ on technical and service quality grounds.

A Google spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that it was too early to comment on whether the tech giant would appeal this decision before the European Court of Justice, the region’s top court; although, court documents say an appeal has to be filed within 2 months.

Since 2017, Google has reportedly made changes to its policies like allowing rival shopping-comparison sites to bid for ad slots atop Google search results that they can then resell, and changing the format for the ads to get those sites more traffic.

Important observations made by the court

On anti-competitiveness in comparison shopping market: The court observed that Google’s practice was harmful as it diverted a lot of traffic away from third-party services as users mostly look at only the first few results. It also said that given that the search engine reflects the most relevant search results at the top, that its own service showed up at the top hints at an anomaly. It upheld the earlier ruling’s fine saying that Google’s unfair practice was conducted intentionally.

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On anti-competitiveness in general search engine market: The General Court dismissed the claim saying that the previous ruling had not established even ‘potential’ anti-competition harms of Google’s conduct in the general search engines market.

Regulatory action against Google’s search engine service worldwide

Russia: In 2017, a Russian search engine reportedly sued and subsequently won an anti-trust lawsuit against Google.

India: In 2018, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Google Rs 135.86 crore for “search bias” and abusing its dominant position in the market. The allegations largely revolved around the design of the Google search engine result page. It was also alleged that the company was leveraging its dominance in web search to strengthen its position in online syndicate search services, as competitors were denied access to the market.

Europe: In 2018, the European Commission had fined Google $5 billion for anti-competitive practices in its search engine service.

America: 38 US states reportedly sued Google, accusing it of trying to make its search engine as dominant inside cars, TVs, and speakers as it is in smartphones.

Australia: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found, as part of its ongoing investigation into monopolistic practices by Big Tech, that Google was abusing its dominant search engine position by making itself the default search engine on smartphones, laptops, and browsers.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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