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Google hit with €1.5 billion antitrust fine by EU

Started by Johnnie F., Mar 20, 2019, 06:23 pm

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Johnnie F.

Google has been hit with a €1.5 billion antitrust fine from the European Union related to its AdSense business. In a press conference this morning, EU antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the tech giant had abused its dominant position in the market, forcing customers to refuse adverts from Google's rivals.

"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," said Vestager in a press statement. "This is illegal under EU antitrust rules."

The fine is the third major penalty the EU has levied against the tech giant in recent years, and closes its last ongoing probe of the company. Google was fined a record €4.3 billion last year for abusing its market dominance in mobile, and €2.4 billion the year before that for manipulating shopping search results. Google is currently appealing both cases.

With the new penalty, Google's total EU antitrust bill now stands at €8.2 billion ($9.3 billion). Today's fine was lower than the previous two as Google actively worked with the European Commission to change its AdSense policies after the EU announced its case in 2016.

EU officials said that from 2006 onwards Google prevented AdSense customers from featuring rival search engines on their sites. AdSense let customers including retailers and newspapers place a Google search box on their website. Then, when users used the search engine, Google showed them ads and split the commission with the website's owner.

Originally, AdSense customers were not allowed to feature rival search engines as well as Google's. In 2009, the tech company allowed the inclusion rival search engines, as long as Google's search box was more prominent. Then, in 2016, it removed these terms entirely.

This climb-down reflects AdSense's diminishing importance for Google. The business was once a steady earner, but never a major part of the company's revenue stream. According to Bloomberg, AdSense contributed less than 20 percent of the company's income in 2015 and has declined ever since. "If you look at the annual reports, AdSense is less and less relevant," Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Aitor Ortiz told the publication.

Although today's fine brings an end to the EU's current trilogy of probes, the organization is still looking at a number of other areas of Google's business and could open new charges against the company in future.

the Verge