Google Begins Last Attempt To Overturn $2.6bn EU Antitrust Fine

Image credit: European Commission

Alphabet’s Google goes to Court of Justice of the European Union in last ditch attempt to overthrow 2.42bn euro EU antitrust fine

Alphabet’s Google has begun its final attempt to avoid having to pay billions of dollars for alleged market abuse of its online shopping service.

It was back in 2017, when the European Commission had fined Google 2.42bn euros ($2.6bn) after it ruled that Google had thwarted rivals of its shopping comparison service.

In February 2020 Google began its appeal against the 2.42 billion euro penalty, but in November 2021 Google lost when the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg dismissed it’s appeal of the antitrust fine.

Last attempt

Now Google on Tuesday began its last-ditch effort at Europe’s top court (the Court of Justice of the European Union or CJEU) to overturn the EU antitrust fine.

Google argue that EU regulators in 2017 had failed to show that its practices were anti-competitive.

Reuters reported that Google lawyer Thomas Graf said the European Commission had failed to show that the company’s different treatment of rivals was abusive and that different treatment alone was not anti-competitive.

“Companies do not compete by treating competitors equally with themselves. They compete by treating them differently. The whole point of competition is for a company to differentiate itself from rivals. Not to align with rivals so that all are the same,” he told the panel of 15 judges.

“Qualifying every different treatment, and in particular different treatment of first party and third party businesses, as abusive would undermine competition. It would impair the ability and incentives of companies to compete and innovate,” Graf was quoted by Reuters as saying.

However commission lawyer Fernando Castillo de la Torre dismissed Google’s arguments, saying the company had used its algorithms to unfairly favour its price comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust laws.

“Google was entitled to apply algorithms that lower the visibility of certain results which were less relevant for a user query,” he reportedly said.

“What Google was not entitled to do was to use its dominance in general search in order to extend its position over comparison shopping by promoting results of its own services, and embellishing them with attractive features and apply algorithms that are prone to pushing down the results of rivals and showing those results without attractive features,” Commission lawyer Castillo de la Torre was quoted by Reuters as saying.

CJEU advocate general Juliane Kokott said she would issue her non-binding opinion on 11 January 2024

The CJEU will rule in the coming months following her recommendation.

Other antitrust fines

This 2.42bn euros ($2.6bn) fine was issued after the European Commission in 2017 had ruled that Google had thwarted rivals of its shopping comparison service.

It was the first of three penalties for anti-competitive practices that have cost Google 8.25 billion euros in total in the last decade.

The next significant antitrust fine came in July 2018, when the European Commission fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros ($4.6bn) for commercial practices related to its Android mobile operating system, the world’s largest ever antitrust penalty.

This was followed in March 2019 when Google was once again hit with a hefty financial penalty from European antitrust regulators. That fine concerned the firm’s AdSense advertising service and Google was ordered to pay 1.49bn euros ($1.6bn).

Ad tech probe

However these of all fines pale in comparison with the ongoing EU antitrust case into Google’s lucrative digital advertising business, that had begun back in June 2021.

The EU is investigating whether “Google violated EU competition rules by favouring its own online display advertising technology services in the so called ‘ad tech’ supply chain, to the detriment of competing providers of advertising technology services, advertisers and online publishers.”

In August 2022 the EC broadened its ad tech investigation of Google when it took over a Portuguese probe into Google’s digital advertising business.

And in an ominous sign in June this year, European regulators warned Google of antitrust violations in its ad tech business and threaten to break up Google’s advertising business.