Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Google in record fine for abuse of dominant position

Google has been fined a record €2.42 billion (more than twice as much as expected, and indeed twice as much as the "bung" given by the UK government to persuade the DUP to maintain it in office) for abusing its dominant position, contrary to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Commission found that the search engine gave illegal prominence to Google's comparison shopping service. Unless it terminates the abuse within 90 days, the company will become liable to daily penalty payments up to 5% of the global turnover Google's parent, Alphabet.

The competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said:
Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.
What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.
The Commission keeps imposing record fines on technology companies. In 2009 it fined a record Intel €1.06 billion for paying manufacturers and a retailer to favour its products over those of AMD, surpassing the €497 million penalty imposed on Microsoft in 2004. There's a brief survey of the eight biggest fines imposed on technology companies for breaches of EU competition rules on the Computer Business review website here. And there is, I think, an outstanding investigation into another abuse by Google involving Google Play and the Google search engine being installed on smartphones. There's also the Commission's state aid case involving the Irish tax authorities and Apple. So many that commentators write about the EU being at war with Silicon Valley - which just happens to be where many of the dominant firms come from (and incidentally a long way from Redmond, WA). The fact remains, however, that there is an interesting phenomenon here as the law on abuse of dominant position (and the penalties for breaches) develops. The fact is, the technology sector offers huge scope for abuses of one sort or another.

There's too much to do to write more about the Google decision right now but I will get back to the story later. If you want to know more here is the Commission's press release. There's also an interesting Fact Sheet. And, with a hat-tip to Warwick Rothnie's IPwars.com blog, Ben Thomposon's comments on Stratechery.com are also well worth reading. I found them very eye-opening.

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