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Google loses appeal of €2.42 billion fine in EU antitrust case

The Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union largely dismisses Google’s action against the decision of the European Commission finding that Google abused its dominant position by favouring its own comparison shopping service over competing comparison shopping services.

By decision of 27 June 2017, the Commission found that Google had abused its dominant position on the market for online general search services in 13 countries in the European Economic Area, by favouring its own comparison shopping service, a specialised search service, over competing comparison shopping services. The Commission found that the results of product searches made using Google’s general search engine were positioned and displayed in a more eye-catching manner when the results came from Google’s own comparison shopping service than when they came from competing comparison shopping services. Moreover, the latter results, which appeared as simple generic results (displayed in the form of blue links), were accordingly, unlike results from Google’s comparison shopping service, prone to being demoted by adjustment algorithms in Google’s general results pages.

In respect of that infringement, the Commission imposed a pecuniary penalty on Google of €2 424 495 000, of which €523 518 000 jointly and severally with Alphabet, its parent company.

Google and Alphabet brought an action against the Commission’s decision before the General Court of the European Union. By its judgment on November 10th, the General Court dismisses for the most part the action brought by the two companies, and upholds the fine imposed by the Commission.

In addition to paying the fine, Google was required to remedy the problem or face fines, even as the legal action continued. The company had to change the display of search results to give more space to competing services. But the latter remain dissatisfied, as they still feel they are being treated unfairly.

The case was a major test for Executive Vice-President of the Commission and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, who last year suffered a resounding defeat in the European courts against Apple for its tax advantages in Ireland.

In light of the slow pace of investigations and legal remedies, the EU is drafting new legislation to finally bring the digital giants into line. In December 2020, Brussels presented a draft regulation (DSA/DMA for Digital Service Act and Digital Market Act) which provides for obligations and bans accompanied by dissuasive sanctions. The text is currently being examined by the European Parliament and the Member States.