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Google loses appeal of $2.8 billion fine in EU antitrust case

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The EU’s second-most senior court, the General Court, has upheld a 2017 ruling by the European Commission which found that Google broke antitrust law in how it used its search engine to promote its shopping comparison service and demote those of its rivals.

Google and its parent company Alphabet appealed the decision, but the General Court today dismissed that appeal and upheld a fine of $2.8 billion. Google and Alphabet now have the option to appeal the decision yet again with the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In its judgement today, the EU’s General Court said it had seen enough evidence that Google’s behavior in this area was harmful. The company, said the court, had broken antitrust law by favouring its own comparison shopping service on its general results pages through more favourable display and positioning, while relegating the results from competing comparison services in those pages by means of ranking algorithms..

This descision is significant as it strengthens antitrust arguments made by the EU’s influential competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager against US tech firms. In addition to this shopping comparison case, Google has been hit by two other major antitrust cases involving Android and AdSense in 2018 and 2019 respectively. These cases are now going through a similar appeal process to the one Google lost today with Google Shopping.

Because self-preferencing is common in the tech world — with companies often achieving scale by focusing on a single product before branching out to neighboring services — this judgement will strengthen other antitrust arguments made by the EU.

The original complaint in this case was filed more than a decade ago in 2009, and today’s decision may not even be the final judgement if Google and Alphabet decide to appeal with the ECJ.

In response to the 2017 judgement, Google did make changes to its business model, allowing rivals to bid to appear in its shopping search results, but rivals said this just created a new revenue stream for the company without addressing Google’s underlying advantage.

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