European Commission to hit Google with Third Antitrust Fine

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Following a high-profile investigation, The European Commission is set to fine Google for hampering potential rival search advertisers, in the latest antitrust showdown between the EU and the US tech giant. Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner, will announce the fine next week, according to people familiar with the case.

Google has already paid €7bn in EU penalties to date for two other cases. The search giant was fined a record €4.3bn last year for abusing the dominant market position of its Android operating system for smartphones, and was hit with a €2.4bn penalty the prior summer for favouring its own shopping services over competitors. The search giant is appealing both decisions to the European courts in Luxembourg.

The latest investigation has focused on Google’s AdSense business, which places its search box on third-party websites, such as news websites. The commission can fine up to an additional $13bn — which is 10 per cent of the latest global turnover of Google’s parent company, Alphabet — but the penalty is expected to be significantly smaller than the maximum.

The Commission at the time complained about three things: that Google was forcing the third-party websites not to source search ads from competitors; that it required them to reserve the most prominent spots in its search results pages for Google ads; and that Google required them to seek its approval every time they wanted to change the display of competing search ads.

While next week’s fine will bring an end to the AdSense investigation, EU antitrust officials continue to scrutinise Google’s behaviour in other services — such as dedicated search for travel, jobs and local businesses — and could open fresh probes. They are also still considering if the fixes to Google’s Android operating system and shopping services are sufficient.

The fine’s imminent nature was reported Friday by the Financial Times, citing three unnamed sources. The Commission and Google both declined to provide comment on the report.

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