Business

Google fined $1.7 billion for blocking rival online search advertisers, in third EU sanction

Reuters

Google was fined €1.49 billion ($1.7 billion) on Wednesday for blocking rival online search advertisers, in the third large European Union antitrust penalty for the Alphabet business in two only years.

The European Commission, which said the fine accounted for 1.29 percent of Google’s turnover in 2018, said in a statement that the anti-competitive practices had lasted a decade.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

The case concerned websites, such as those of newspapers or travel organizations, with search functions that produce search results and search-related adverts. Google’s AdSense for Search provided the search-related adverts.

The misconduct included stopping publishers from placing any search-related adverts from Google’s search competitors on the publishers’ search results pages, forcing them to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s own adverts, as well as a requirement to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any adverts from Google’s rivals were displayed.

The AdSense advertising case was triggered by a complaint from Microsoft in 2010. Both companies subsequently dropped complaints against each other in 2016.

Last year, Vestager imposed a record €4.34 billion fine on Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block its rivals. This followed a €2.42 billion fine in June 2017 for hindering rival shopping comparison websites.

Google is now trying to comply with the order to ensure a level playing field, with proposals to boost price comparison competition and prompt Android users to choose their preferred browsers and search apps. Critics however are still not happy.