Google faces a record-breaking fine for monopoly abuse within weeks, as officials in Brussels put the finishing touches to a seven-year investigation of company’s dominant search engine.
It is understood that the European Commission is aiming to hit Google with a fine in the region of €3bn, a figure that would easily surpass its toughest anti-trust punishment to date, a €1.1bn fine levied on the microchip giant Intel.
Sources close to the situation said officials aimed to make an announcement before the summer break and could make their move as early as next month, although cautioned that Google’s bill for crushing competition online had not been finalised.
The maximum possible is around €6.6bn, or a tenth of Google’s total annual sales.
It will mark a watershed moment in Silicon Valley’s competition battle with Brussels. Google has already been formally charged with unlawfully promoting its own price comparison service in general search results while simultaneously relegating those of smaller rivals, denying them traffic.
The stakes have been further raised by a new investigation into alleged monopoly abuse related to Google’s Android smartphone software.
Margarethe Vestager, the Competition Commissioner, on Friday raised the possibility of further charges in other specialised web search markets such as travel information and maps.
Legal sources said the fine it faces over shopping comparison is likely to take account of the fact that Google abused its monopoly on general web search over many years. The European Commission may also seek to make an example of the company over changes to its algorithms during the investigation that made it even harder for competitors to thrive, as well as what some officials now see as its delaying tactics during the investigation.
As well as facing a heavy fine, Google will be banned from continuing to manipulate search results to favour itself and harm rivals. The company has fiercely resisted such interference in its algorithms, the heart of its business, and sought to placate regulators with offers to redesign the presentation of results, a gambit that ultimately failed.
Jaoquin Almunia, the previous Competition Commissioner, sought to agree a deal on such changes without bringing formal charges, but Ms Vestager’s has brought a new, more aggressive style to the role, according to lawyers in Brussels.
Her fine will signal a rejection of Google’s arguments that because Amazon and eBay are successful competition is thriving online.
Google declined to comment. It could choose to fight the fine and new search rules in the European Court of Justice.
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk By Christopher Williams