European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager

EU fines Google €1.49bn in third antitrust penalty in two years

Image credit: reuters

Google has been fined €1.49bn (£1.28bn) by the EU for blocking rival online search advertisers, the third anti-trust enforcement measure taken by Europe in the last two years.

The massive fine is actually smaller than both the €2.42bn fine which Google received in 2017 for manipulating shopping results and the €4.34bn penalty in July last year over unfair exploitation of its Android mobile operating system.

The European Commission, which said the latest fine accounted for 1.29 per cent of Google’s turnover in 2018, said in a statement that the anti-competitive practices had lasted a decade.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites,” said Margrethe Vestager (pictured above), European Competition Commissioner.

The case concerned websites, such as newspaper or travel sites, with a search function that produces search results and search adverts. Google’s AdSense for Search provided such search adverts.

The misconduct included stopping publishers from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages, forcing them to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and a requirement to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed.

The AdSense advertising case was triggered by a complaint from Microsoft in 2010. Both companies subsequently dropped complaints against each other in 2016.

At the same time as today’s fine, Google has said it will begin asking Android users in Europe about their preferred search engine and web browser apps following last year’s €4.34bn penalty.

Google said it was taking steps to “ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones”.

It said it changed its licensing model for its Android phones by creating separate licenses for Google Play, the Chrome browser and for Google Search.

“In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app,” the company said.

Samsung, the largest Android manufacturer, already includes its own browser on its devices, as well as an alternative to Google Assistant, dubbed Bixby.

Meanwhile, Google also launched a new game streaming service yesterday called Stadia which uses its data centres to stream games to users on any device.

Gamers will be “able to access their games at all times and on virtually any screen” the company said.

So far, only Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the next Doom game have been announced for the platform and no firm launch date has been given, beyond a vague ‘coming later in 2019’ date.

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