The European Court of Justice has fined Google a record €4.1 billion for anti-competitive behaviour, in a ruling seen as another setback for Silicon Valley in the EU.
The EU court confirmed the EU Commission's 2018 decision that Google had imposed unlawful restrictions on manufacturers of Android mobile devices and network operators in an effort to consolidate the dominant position of its search engine.
The court dismissed Google's claims that it had not acted unreasonably and emphasised “the gravity and duration of the infringement." For this reason, "the General Court considered it appropriate to impose a fine of €4.125 billion on Google."
The EU Commission accused the tech company of forcing Android users to install their apps: Google Search, Chrome and the Play Store – which are used to download other apps. Brussels claimed this practice stifled competition and entry into the market for other developers (notably European start-ups) while denying the consumer the benefits of the free market.
Consequently, the Commission initially fined Google almost €4.343 billion – the largest ever imposed. The decision was appealed by Google which led to today's ruling of a slightly lower amount.
The Commission found that a preinstallation of the three apps could give rise to a "status quo bias" where users tend to use the search and browser apps available to them rather than downloading alternatives. This also bolsters significantly the usage of Google's search engine, an advantage that could not be overcome by Google’s rivals.
With Google securing much of its revenue from search engines, the pre-installation conditions imposed on manufacturers were deemed abusive and restricted competition. Google contested the initial ruling but was unable to demonstrate any objective justification for these practices, the General Court stated.
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Despite achieving a 5% reduction on the total amount of the fine, the ruling is largely seen as a huge setback for Google and a boost for the EU.
The long battle between the EU and big tech has been ongoing for many years. Today's decision comes as part of a wider battle between the EU and Silicon Valley, spearheaded by the efforts of EU anti-trust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Google was already fined €2.42 billion in 2021 for breaching EU antitrust laws.
The case may be appealed by Google within two months and ten days of notification of the decision.