Published: Wed, March 20, 2019
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

European Union regulators fine Google €1.49 billion for blocking rival online search advertisers

European Union regulators fine Google €1.49 billion for blocking rival online search advertisers

European regulators fined Google about $1.7 billion on Wednesday on charges that its advertising practices violated local antitrust laws, marking the third time in as many years that the region's watchdogs have penalized the US tech giant for harming competition and consumers.

The European Commission, which said the fine amounted to 1.29 per cent of Google's turnover in 2018, said that the case focused on the company's illegal practises in search advertising brokering from 2006 to 2016.

AdSense is an older Google product that lets web publishers such as bloggers place text ads on their websites, with the content of the ads based on results from search functions on their sites.

"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 Vestager in a written statement. That doesn't change the fact that Chrome and Google Search were default options on Android phones.

Last year Vestager hit the company with a record $5bn (£3.8bn / €4.3bn) fine following an investigation into its Android operating system.

"As a result, Google's competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites' search results pages", the Commission said. In both cases, Google has started tweaking its business practices in Europe to comply with the law while appealing the E.U.'s decisions in court. "This is illegal under European Union antitrust rules", said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

This is how Google abuses its dominance according to the EU.                  European Competition Commission
This is how Google abuses its dominance according to the EU. European Competition Commission

May 2014 - Joaquin Almunia, European Competition Commissioner at that time, says feedback from complainants will be crucial to determining whether he accepts Google's concessions. The first of the three investigations - to do with Google's abuse of its search dominance to push its comparison shopping service - is being resolved by Google's own remedy.

In a blog post, Google's SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker said the company will "do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones".

Google announced on Tuesday that it was making changes to address the commission's concerns about the Android case, in a move that could promote more competition.

"Over the next few months, we'll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe", he added. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.

Google's foe, the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace, said regulators should stay vigilant.

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