Google hit by record €4bn fine for EU Android market dominance

Upon losing an appeal on a ruling of unfair promotion of its search engine on Android devices, Google has been fined a record €4.1bn (£3.6bn) by the European Commission

Despite being cut down from €4.3bn due to a ruling against one initial infringement, the fine is the largest ever given by a competition authority in Europe.

The anti-competition case began in 2015, when Google was found to be forcing smartphone and tablet manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung to install its search app and web browser in order to get access to its Play Store suite.

Additionally, the corporation was deemed to limit competition through having Android handset manufacturers install Chrome as the default browser, as a requirement for pre-installing other apps such as Play Store and Gmail.

On Wednesday, EU regulators stated that Google were “foreclosing its competitors to the detriment of consumers”, before continuing: “At that time, which was crucial for the development of online search services from smart mobile devices, Google’s abusive practices were damaging to its competitors.

“Moreover, it is clear from the internal documents and statements of Google on which the Commission relies that Google was fully aware of the effects of the practices challenged in the contested decision.”

In response, a Google spokesperson stated: “We are disappointed that the court did not annul the decision in full. Android has created more choice for everyone, not less, and supports thousands of successful businesses in Europe and around the world.”

The company are able to appeal once again to the Europe’s Court of Justice, but are said to be planning next steps towards this first.

The tech giant continues to drive most of its revenue from its search engine, which facilitates a large part of Internet advertising — an area of operations that is now also subject to legal action.

What the ruling means for big tech

Describing the ruling as a “vindication” of the EU Commission’s findings, law firm Clifford Chance partner Dieter Paemen commented: “This judgment will embolden the Commission in its efforts to enforce the Digital Markets Act, and that can’t make Google happy.

“The Commission now needs to turn its attention to seriously enforcing the remedies in the decision, but this is a positive outcome for consumers who stand a better chance of real choices on their mobile devices.”

Further, Andrea Hamilton, partner at Milbank, said: “Regardless of whether the Google/Alphabet appeal to the Court of Justice of the EU, the General Court’s decision is likely to embolden the commission’s approach to enforcement regarding Big Tech at a time when the Digital Markets Act, which itself sets out new rules for how large digital platforms operate, will soon take effect.

“Effects could also be felt beyond the EU, as regulators are increasingly collaborating in the development of enforcement in key areas, such as digital markets.”


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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.