Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia
The European Commission was reportedly close to imposing a €3bn fine on Google in May, but has given the company a six-week extension to respond to charges relating to Android and added fresh charges concerning its advertising business.
In November 2010, the European Commission (EC) launched an investigation into Google’s business practices, notifying the US company in March 2013 of concerns that it had abused its dominance of the search market. Google reportedly accounts for 90% of the European Union’s search market.
The original EC investigation centred on charges that Google had unlawfully promoted its own price comparison service over those of smaller rivals in general search results.
However, in April 2016, the EC said Google was also in breach of the EU’s anti-trust rules for imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators as part of its mobile strategy to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general internet search.
The EC said that pre-installing and setting Google as the default, or exclusive, search service on most Android devices sold in Europe closed off ways for rival search engines to access the market via competing mobile browsers and operating systems.
Read more about Google’s anti-trust case
- Pre-installing Google search and Google Play on devices is anti-competitive and limits consumer choice, says EC.
- The European Commission gives its backing to new proposals from Google, putting to rest accusations of anti-competitive behaviour on the company’s search sites.
- Google has submitted several proposals in response to concerns by European competition authorities in an attempt to avoid punitive fines.
The EC initially gave Google until 27 July 2016 to respond to the charges relating to Android. It extended that to 7 September after Google requested more time to review the documents in the case, an EC spokesman told The Guardian newspaper.
But the EC has now given Google until 22 September to answer new charges for abusing its dominant position in digital adverting.
EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager filed a statement of objections specifically about Google’s AdSense service, which helps companies place adverts on third-party websites: “Today, we have further strengthened our case that Google has unduly favoured its own comparison shopping service in its general search result pages.
“It means consumers may not see the most relevant results to their search queries. We have also raised concerns that Google has hindered competition by limiting the ability of its competitors to place search adverts on third-party websites, which stifles consumer choice and innovation.”
Google could face a fine of up to 10% of its global turnover, which works out at around $7.4bn (€6.6bn). That would be more than six times greater than the biggest anti-competitive fine, of €1.06bn, imposed by the EC on chip maker Intel in 2009.
In addition to the charges relating to Android and that Google favours its shopping service in search results over competitors, the final fine may also reflect charges of anti-competitive practices in other specialised web search markets, such as travel information and maps.
The company’s delaying tactics during the EC’s investigation and the changes it made in that time, making it even harder for competitors to thrive, could also push the fine higher.
Google may even be banned from manipulating search results to favour its services over those of competitors. It could appeal against both a fine and a ban in the European Court of Justice.