Google fined $5B for antitrust breach in Europe

Google was fined $5 billion by the European Commission for unfairly pushing its apps on smartphone users and thwarting competitors.

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 8:51 AM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 8:51 AM

Europe has imposed a record fine on Google. But it's probably too little, too late.

The €4.34 billion ($5 billion) penalty announced Wednesday by the European Commission is the latest salvo in an extended battle between Google and regulators in Brussels, who have subjected the tech company to three antitrust investigations.

The fine may be a record, but it's one that Google can absorb without too much pain. And the penalty won't cause Europeans to fall out of love with Google's popular Android operating system or its ubiquitous smartphone apps.

"Google can brush [the fine] off without an enormous amount of difficultly," said Richard Windsor, founder of the tech research firm Radio Free Mobile.

The Commission has ordered Google to give manufacturers more freedom when deciding which apps to install on Android smartphones. But that's unlikely to mean dramatic changes in Europe, where around 80% of smartphones use the operating system.

Google will have to stop preloading Android apps on phones, but Gmail, YouTube, Maps and Chrome have become so essential that customers are bound to seek them out.

"Most users are already completely hooked on Google services. They are going to download the apps anyway," said Windsor, adding that the ruling would have been more effective if it had been issued five years ago.

Related: Google's not alone. Europe has been taking on tech companies for decades

Mark Patterson, an antitrust expert and law professor at Fordham University, said the biggest win for Google was that the Commission did not order it to share the user data that forms the backbone of its business.

"Those data are the real basis of the success of its business ... it is far from clear that this decision could allow even a firm with the resources of Amazon, which has its own but different data, to become an effective competitor for Google."

Still, the ruling could encourage regulators in Europe and spark more complaints over the behavior of Google and other tech companies.

"Plaintiffs that were not sure whether they have a case will now feel emboldened and may be more confident to challenge Google," said Nicolas Petit, a professor at the University of Liege and visiting fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

He said content creators could be the next to take on Google over its handling of intellectual property.

"Google is a company with a lot of enemies, including in the United States," he said. "Lots of people will be inclined to read the decision as a form of discriminatory, protectionist behavior by the European Union, but ... the complaints often come from US companies."

Google said that it would appeal the decision.

"Android has created more choice for everyone, not less," it said in a statement. "A vibrant ecosystem, rapid innovation and lower prices are the classic hallmarks of robust competition."

Target tech

The Commission has been fighting Google on multiple fronts for almost a decade. Last year, it imposed a then-record €2.4 billion ($2.8 billion) fine on the company for using its search engine to unfairly steer consumers to its own shopping platform.

A third antitrust case, which is still being investigated, involves the Google advertising placement service AdSense.

Related: Uber saved its London business. Europe may be tougher to crack

Apple, Amazon and Facebook have also been penalized by European regulators in recent years, leading to allegations that US companies have been unfairly targeted.

It's a charge that top EU antitrust official Margrethe Vestager has refuted.

"No matter what the political context ... if you breach Europe's antitrust rules and we find out, there will be a penalty, there is no surprise," she told reporters on Wednesday.

Tech companies have also been forced this year to bring their operations into compliance with GDPR, a new set of EU regulations that give consumers much more control over their personal data. Changes to copyright law that would affect tech firms are also being considered.

Google has responded by beefing up its lobbying efforts in the European Union. It spent between $6.1 million and $6.4 million on EU lobbying in 2016, according to official data. That compares to $700,000 in 2011.

Break up?

Some Europeans want regulators to go much further and perhaps even break up Google.

"Separating Google's search engine from its commercial activities is necessary to restore level playing field," said Ramon Tremosa, a member of the European Parliament.

Related: Europe hits Google with record $5 billion fine

Tremosa argues that Google's dominance has obscured the original purpose of its search engine: to display most relevant choices.

"Google gives preferential treatment to its own services ... or companies have to pay more to be displayed," he said. "It is not offering the best choices for consumers."

Bigger trends

Analysts said that EU decision could actually make a difference in other markets.

Windsor said that because many of Google's contracts with smartphone makers are global, the ruling could force it to change its strategy elsewhere including Africa.

"You could see handset makers and operators go into the Africa market with a device that has the Google Play on it, but no other Google services," he said. "They could these users to try their own services before they get completely hooked on Google."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 296154

Reported Deaths: 6764
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19700230
Hinds18851392
Harrison16736281
Rankin12757265
Jackson12623228
Lee9694161
Madison9480203
Jones7990147
Forrest7234138
Lauderdale6837226
Lowndes6032140
Lamar589680
Lafayette5740113
Washington5220130
Bolivar4616124
Oktibbeha441593
Panola431995
Pearl River4178131
Warren4134115
Pontotoc410571
Marshall403592
Monroe3990127
Union396174
Neshoba3817169
Lincoln3552104
Hancock348975
Leflore3380118
Sunflower318986
Tate303174
Pike301296
Scott294570
Alcorn292263
Yazoo290565
Itawamba290175
Coahoma281169
Tippah279265
Copiah278758
Simpson276280
Prentiss270258
Wayne254341
Leake252871
Marion252778
Covington249580
Grenada247878
Adams234678
George232145
Newton230852
Winston221877
Jasper213645
Tishomingo212665
Attala206669
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182370
Clay179251
Stone172429
Tallahatchie171239
Clarke169371
Calhoun158028
Smith153033
Yalobusha145036
Greene127833
Walthall124340
Noxubee122831
Montgomery122639
Perry122135
Lawrence120321
Carroll118625
Amite111734
Webster110832
Jefferson Davis102231
Tunica99323
Claiborne98829
Benton93824
Humphreys92927
Kemper90323
Quitman77414
Franklin76119
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62727
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 497154

Reported Deaths: 10029
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson714001387
Mobile36252736
Madison32573462
Tuscaloosa24289414
Montgomery22708519
Shelby22112215
Baldwin19856285
Lee15021155
Calhoun13755288
Morgan13742252
Etowah13379320
Marshall11439210
Houston10110262
Elmore9451185
Limestone9413136
St. Clair9003225
Cullman8979182
Lauderdale8610212
DeKalb8486175
Talladega7582165
Walker6571259
Jackson6542103
Autauga631391
Blount6229127
Colbert5998120
Coffee5259103
Dale4657107
Russell406433
Franklin399778
Covington3989106
Chilton3891100
Escambia378772
Tallapoosa3613143
Clarke343953
Chambers3423111
Dallas3419142
Pike293372
Marion288895
Lawrence284683
Winston258668
Bibb245960
Geneva240270
Marengo238357
Pickens225055
Barbour212951
Hale211969
Fayette201357
Butler201166
Henry182941
Cherokee177739
Monroe166639
Randolph164640
Washington156635
Macon147243
Crenshaw146254
Clay145554
Cleburne139741
Lamar133733
Lowndes132551
Wilcox122525
Bullock117236
Conecuh107024
Perry105927
Sumter99432
Coosa89624
Greene88532
Choctaw55123
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 40°
Columbus
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 46°
Oxford
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 41°
Starkville
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 39°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather