by N. Peter Kramer
Google is challenging a fine of 4,3 billion euros imposed by the European Commission, that found that the tech giant abused the Android platform to strengthen its dominance in the market of interne searching engines. Google and the Commission face each other before the General Court of the EU Court of Justice.
In July 2018, Google got a monster fine: the Commission imposed a fine of no less than 4.3 billion euros. That was the climax of an investigation launched in 2013, following a complaint from Fairsearch, a collection of organisations and companies such as Oracle and Tripadvisor. According to the Commission, Google violated competition rules. It would misuse Android, the operating system for smartphones and tablets, with an 80% market share in the EU in 2008, to strengthen what it believes to be the dominant position of Google’s search engine.
Google obviously disagreed. It did adapt its working method and gave manufacturers more freedom via a licensing system over which Google apps they install and which they don’t. It also introduced a drop-down menu for which search engine to use. In this way, Google believed it was meeting the Commission’s requirements, although according to Fairsearch the interventions are still insufficient. But at the same time, Google appealed the Commission’s decision.
Google says that the Commission is looking at this case as it went after Microsoft in 2004 about bundling Windows with the Media Player app, and with Internet Explorer in 2009. According to Google, the world has changed since then, and the Commission itself knows that, because it allowed the acquisition of Skype by Microsoft in 2011, on the basis of that it would not harm users’ freedom of choice.
The case is very important for Commission’s Vice-President Margarethe Vestager. She is known for her vigorous crackdown on US tech giants. The fine for Google is a record fine that went around the world. But Vestager had already taken some blows in her battle against US big tech. For example, the demand that Apple had to pay €13 billion in back taxes in Ireland was brushed aside last year. This year she was overruled in a case against Amazon. If Vestager doesn’t want to get the reputation that her actions against US big tech are all futile, this monster case against Google is one she really needs to win.