LUXEMBOURG—Alphabet subsidiary Google lost an appeal to a 2.42 billion euro ($2.8 billion) European antitrust decision on Nov. 10, a major win for the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager in the first of three court rulings that could strengthen the EU’s push to regulate Big Tech.
Vestager sanctioned the world’s most popular internet search engine in 2017 for favoring its own price-comparison shopping service, giving itself an unfair advantage against its smaller European rivals.
The shopping case was the first of a trio of decisions that has seen Google rack up a total of 8.25 billion euros in EU antitrust fines over the past decade. The company could face yet more defeats in two other cases, which involve its Android mobile operating system and AdSense advertising service. The EU is seen to have stronger arguments in both cases.
The court ruling will strengthen Vestager’s hand in her investigations into Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.
“The General Court largely dismisses Google’s action against the decision of the Commission finding that Google abused its dominant position by favoring its own comparison shopping service over competing comparison shopping services,” the decision reads. “Google departed from competition on the merits.”
The court stated that the European Commission correctly found that Google’s practices had harmed competition and rejected the company’s argument that the presence of merchant platforms showed that there was strong competition.
The court backed the EU fine, citing the serious nature of the infringement, as well as the fact that “the conduct in question was adopted intentionally, not negligently.”
Google said it would review the judgment and that it has already complied with the commission’s order to ensure a level playing field for rivals. The company didn’t say if it would appeal to the EU Court of Justice, Europe’s top court.
The commission welcomed the ruling, saying that it would provide legal clarity for the market.
“The Commission will continue to use all tools at its disposal to address the role of big digital platforms on which businesses and users depend to, respectively, access end-users and access digital services,” Vestager said in a statement.
Rivals, such as Yelp and those in the travel, restaurant, and accommodation industries, will be hoping that Vestager’s victory will revive other dormant investigations triggered by their complaints.
The EU watchdog is currently focusing its energies on Google’s use of data and its digital advertising business.
On Nov. 9, the UK Supreme Court blocked a planned $4.3 billion British class-action lawsuit against Google over allegations that the internet giant had unlawfully tracked the personal information of millions of iPhone users.
To augment her antitrust powers, Vestager proposed new landmark tech rules in 2020 that will force U.S. tech giants to change their business models to ensure a level playing field for rivals.
By Francois Aulner and Foo Yun Chee