Google hit with yet another EU anti-trust fine

By Luke Christou

The European Commission has handed Google its third anti-trust fine in two years for “abusive practices in online advertising”.

Regulators issued Google parent company Alphabet with a €1.49bn ($1.69bn) fine today for breaching competition laws in relation to its AdSense advertising platform. EU antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager claimed that Google had abused its position as a leader in online advertising by forcing its customers into exclusive advertising contracts which barred them from advertising Adsense rival through Google search.

In 2006 Google added a clause to its AdSense ad contracts that prohibited rival publishers from placing adverts on their search results pages. By limiting the reach of rival advertisement platforms, the EC felt that Google had restricted the options available to consumers.

“Based on a broad range of evidence, the Commission found that Google’s conduct harmed competition and consumers, and stifled innovation,” the Commission found. “Google’s rivals were unable to grow and offer alternative online search advertising intermediation services to those of Google.”

According to the EU, the fine “takes account of the duration and gravity of the infringement”. The Commission calculated the fine based on the company’s revenue from its AdSense search advertising division.

The $1.69bn fine means that Google has now been fined more than $9bn by the EC since 2017.

The search giant was first fined $2.4bn in 2017 for unfair search practices. Google was deemed to have treated rivals to its shopping comparison service unfairly by bumping them down their search results. That was followed by a $5bn fine last year for forcing smartphone manufacturers to pre-install Google apps on their Android devices.

Big tech faces the fight

This is the latest case against Google in Vestager’s war against Silicon Valley’s technology giants. She previously oversaw the decision to force Apple to pay up $15bn in taxes to the Irish government, and also handed Facebook a $129m fine over its acquisition of messaging app WhatsApp.

There has been increased calls in the European Union to regulate these companies. Earlier this week EC Vice President Frans Timmermans said that “at some point, we will have to regulate” tech giants at the World Policy Forrum in Berlin.

However, the US tech giants also have a fight on their hands at home, with Senator Elizabeth Warren promising to break up the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon should she win the 2020 presidential election.

Warren claims that big tech companies have too much power over “our economy, our society, and our democracy”. She believes that reducing the dominance of these companies will promote competition and open up opportunities for new businesses to emerge.

Despite that, a recent survey conducted by anonymous workplace social media network Blind found that just 64% of workers from companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Intel want to see their new-age rivals broken up.