Google fined $1.7b by EU for unfair advertising rules
LONDON — European authorities on Wednesday fined Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market, continuing its efforts to rein in the world’s biggest technology companies.
The fine, worth about $1.7 billion, is the third against Google by the European Union since 2017, reinforcing the region’s position as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of an industry with an increasingly powerful role in society and the global economy. The regulators said Google had violated antitrust rules by imposing unfair terms on companies that used its search bar on their websites in Europe.
Europe’s regulatory approach was once criticized as unfairly targeting technology companies from the United States, but is now viewed as a potential global model as governments question the influence of Silicon Valley.
Europe is at the forefront of a broad debate about the role of tech platforms like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and whether their size and power hurt competition.
In the United States, where policymakers have taken a largely hands-off approach to the companies, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has made breaking up Google and other tech giants a priority in her Democratic presidential campaign.
This week, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the House subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law, called for a federal investigation of Facebook.
“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. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust watchdog, said in a statement.
A Google executive responded by saying that “healthy, thriving markets are in everyone’s interest.”
“We’ve already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the commission’s concerns,” added the executive, Kent Walker, senior vice president for global affairs. “Over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe.”
The case is the last of three investigations the European Commission has pursued against Google, whose parent company is Alphabet.
Last year, Vestager fined Google a record 4.34 billion euros (about $5.1 billion at the time) for using its ownership of the Android mobile operating system to unfairly undercut rivals in the mobile phone market, a decision that also forced the company to change how it bundles its apps on smartphones. In 2017, the company was fined an additional 2.4 billion euros for unfairly favoring its own shopping services over those of rivals. Google is appealing both fines.
On Wednesday, European officials said Google had unfairly required websites that used its search bar to feature ads from Google’s advertising services over those of rivals. Google has said it stopped the practice starting in 2016.
The different rulings haven’t had a big impact on Google’s financial health — Alphabet’s revenue last year was $137 billion — but they have forced the tech giant to adjust some business practices.