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European justice confirms record fine against Google

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A major setback for Google. The American internet giant failed on Wednesday (September 14th) to overturn a record fine of 4.3 billion euros imposed in 2018 by Brussels for having abused the dominant position of its Android operating system, according to a court judgment of the European Union (EU).

“The action brought by Google is essentially dismissed”, considered the jurisdiction established in Luxembourg. However, she judges ” appropriate ” to reduce the amount of the penalty to 4.1 billion euros in order to take better account of the seriousness and duration of the infringement. This is a judgment rendered at first instance and subject to appeal within two months.

Brussels notably accuses Google of having forced manufacturers of telephones and tablets using its operating system to pre-install its search engine and its Chrome browser to eliminate competitors. The Android system is used on approximately 80% of mobile devices worldwide.

Google accuses Apple

“The court largely confirms the Commission’s decision that Google imposed unlawful restrictions on mobile device manufacturers and mobile network operators, in order to consolidate the dominant position of its search engine”, the court said in a statement.

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The Mountain View (California) group considers the accusation unfounded. He had seized European justice to claim the cancellation of the fine, the highest ever decided by the competition authority in Brussels (even after the reduction proposed by the court).

The American giant believes that the EU has wrongly ignored competitor Apple, which favors its own services on its iPhones, such as the Safari browser. “The commission has turned a blind eye to the real competitive dynamics of this sector, the one between Apple and Android”, had explained the lawyer of the group, during a hearing last year.

A dispute that dates back to 2015

Google stressed that downloading competing apps was a click away and that customers were under no obligation to use its products on Android.

However, Wednesday’s decision should not close this dispute, which began in 2015 with the opening of a procedure by the European Commission, after several complaints from competitors. Google has the possibility of appealing to the Court of Justice of the EU, the highest European court. The case is one of three major disputes opened by Brussels against Google, whose practices are also disputed in the United States and Asia.

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In 2017, the Commission imposed a fine of 2.4 billion euros on the technology giant for anti-competitive practices in the price comparison market. This fine was confirmed in January by the EU court. Google then announced that it was appealing.

New EU legislation

In 2019, the European executive had still claimed 1.5 billion euros from Google for infringements of competition attributed to its Adsense advertising management. On the other hand, European justice had canceled in June a fine of nearly one billion euros against the mobile telephony equipment manufacturer Qualcomm, after having already canceled in January a sanction of 1.06 billion euros against the chipmaker Intel electronics.

Frustrated by the endless litigation against the digital giants, the EU has devised new legislation to curb abuses of dominant position by the Silicon Valley giants.

The regulation of digital markets, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which is due to come into force next year, will impose a series of upstream obligations and prohibitions on groups such as Google, Apple, Meta (Facebook) and Amazon. It aims to act before abusive behavior has destroyed competition.

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