5th Dec 2021

Google loses price-comparison case, emboldening EU regulators

  • EU Commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager last year proposed overhauling tech rules to create a level playing field for rivals (Photo: European Commission)
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Google lost a crucial appeal case on Wednesday (10 November) at the EU's general court, against a €2.42bn anti-competition fine - in a major boost for EU Commission vice-president Margarethe Vestager's efforts to rein in 'Big Tech'.

The EU regulator fined the world's most popular internet search engine back in 2017, over Google's use of its own price-comparison shopping service to gain an unfair advantage over smaller European rivals.

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Google was displaying its own service prominently - at or near the top - of the first search-results page, irrespective of how good or relevant it was, while rival services were displayed lower.

The ruling said Google's practices harmed competition and upheld the commission's fine.

The general court, the lower court of the European Court of Justice, said that "the conduct in question was adopted intentionally, not negligently".

The commission welcomed the decision.

"The judgement delivers clear message that Google's conduct was unlawful and it provides the necessary legal clarity for the market," a commission spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Google said it would review the judgment and that it has already complied with the commission's order to ensure a level playing field for rivals.

The court's ruling could also strengthen Vestager's position in her investigations into US tech giants Amazon, Apple and Facebook, and embolden the commission regulators.

As part of the commission's efforts to push for the digital transformation of Europe's economies, the EU executive has been cracking down on the tech companies where it finds that they have abused their market domination.

This case was the first of three decisions in the last decade by the commission that saw Google being hit by total of €8.25bn in EU anti-trust fines.

The company is awaiting two appeals rulings in the other two decisions on its Android operating system and the AdSense advertising service.

The commission spokeswoman said that the EU "will continue to use all tools at its disposal to address the role of big digital platforms."

Vestager last year proposed to overhaul tech rules, introducing the Digital Markets Act proposal, to force US tech giants to change their business model to create a level playing field for rivals.

Green MEP Rasmus Andresen called for tougher rules, including the option to split platforms up, as part of the proposed legislation.

"Only when Big Tech feel economic consequences through penalties and regulation we will see change," he said in a statement, adding: "In addition to an adjustment of the Digital Markets Act, we call for a tightening of competition law to make it easier to split up platforms that are too dominant."

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