LUXEMBOURG, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Google suffered one of its
biggest setbacks on Wednesday when a top European court upheld a
ruling that it broke competition rules and fined it a record 4.1
billion euros, in a move that may encourage other regulators to
ratchet up pressure on the U.S. giant.
The unit of U.S. tech giant Alphabet had
challenged an EU antitrust ruling, but the decision was broadly
upheld by Europe's General Court, with the fine trimmed modestly
to 4.125 billion euros ($4.13 billion) from 4.34 billion euros.
Even with the reduction, it was still a record fine for an
antitrust violation. The EU antitrust enforcer has fined the
world's most popular internet search engine a total of 8.25
billion euros in three investigations stretching back more than
The judgment is set to boost landmark rules aimed at curbing
the power of U.S. tech giants that will go into effect next
"The judgment strengthens the hand of the Commission. It
confirms the Commission can use antitrust proceedings as a
backstop threat to enforce rapid compliance with digital
regulation also known as the DMA," said Nicolas Petit, professor
at European University Institute.
EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager did not mince her
"This, of course, is really good. Now, we have the second
Google judgment and for us, it is really important as it backs
our enforcement efforts," she said.
This is the second court defeat for Google which lost its
challenge to a 2.42 billion euro ($2.42 billion) fine last year,
the first of a trio of cases.
"The General Court largely confirms the Commission's
decision that Google imposed unlawful restrictions on
manufacturers of Android mobile devices and mobile network
operators in order to consolidate the dominant position of its
search engine," the court said.
"In order better to reflect the gravity and duration of the
infringement, the General Court considers it appropriate however
to impose a fine of 4.125 billion euros on Google, its reasoning
differing in certain respects from that of the Commission,"
Google, which can appeal on matters of law to the EU Court
of Justice, Europe's highest, voiced its disappointment.
"We are disappointed that the Court did not annul the
decision in full. Android has created more choice for everyone,
not less, and supports thousands of successful businesses in
Europe and around the world," a spokesperson said.
The ruling is a boost for Vestager after the General Court
overturned her decisions against Intel and Qualcomm
earlier this year.
Vestager has made her crackdown against Big Tech a hallmark
of her job, a move which has encouraged regulators in the United
States and elsewhere to follow suit.
She is currently investigating Google's digital advertising
business, its Jedi Blue ad deal with Meta, Apple's
App Store rules, Meta's marketplace and data use and
Amazon's online selling and market practices.
The Court agreed with the Commission's assessment that
iPhone maker Apple was not in the same market and
therefore could not be a competitive constraint against Android.
The court backing could reinforce the EU antitrust watchdog
in its investigations into Apple's business practices in the
music streaming market, which the regulator says Apple
FairSearch, whose 2013 complaint triggered the EU case, said
the judgment may lead to more competition in the smartphone
"This shows the European Commission got it right. Google can
no longer impose its will on phone makers. Now they may open
their devices to competition in search and other services,
allowing consumers to benefit from increased choice," its lawyer
Thomas Vinje said.
The Commission in its 2018 decision said Google used Android
to cement its dominance in general internet search via payments
to large manufacturers and mobile network operators and
Google said it acted like countless other businesses and
that such payments and agreements help keep Android a free
operating system, criticising the EU decision as out of step
with the economic reality of mobile software platforms.
The case is T-604/18 Google vs European Commission.
($1 = 1.0002 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee
Editing by David Evans and Bernadette Baum)