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EU fines Google €1.49 billion for abusing online advertising

March 21, 2019 1:26 P.M. (Updated: March 24, 2019 10:48 A.M.)
BRUSSELS (Ma'an) -- Europe Union regulators slapped Google with an antitrust penalty of 1.49 billion Euros, on Wednesday, for the third time in less than two years, for abusing its dominant role in online advertising business.

The ruling brings to nearly $10 billion the amount in fines the EU has imposed against Google and it underscores the increasing regulatory pressure that big tech companies are facing worldwide over not just competition but privacy infractions, online misinformation, and hate speech.

The ruling applies to a narrow portion of Google’s ad business, when Google sells ads next to search results on a third-party website, in which investigators found that Google, along with its parent company Alphabet, inserted exclusivity clauses in its contracts that barred websites from running similarly placed ads sold by Google’s rivals.

EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said “As a result, advertisers and website owners ‘had less choice and likely faced higher prices that would be passed on to consumers.’”

Vestager mentioned that anyone who suffered from Google’s behavior can seek compensation through national courts.

EU regulators opened the investigation in 2016, about seven years after Microsoft filed a complaint, though at the time Google already made a few changes to grant customers more freedom to show competing ads.

For such reason, EU regulators did not require a specific remedy to restore competition.

However, Vestager said that it appeared rivals haven’t been able to catch up and some are “quite small.”

The EU stated Google has more than 70% of the European market for selling ads that run alongside search results on third-party websites.

In response, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, said “We’ve already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the commission’s concerns.”

Walker noted, “Over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe.”

The EU has been promoting tougher regulation of big tech companies and enforced strict data privacy rules that affect Facebook and other social media companies.

It is noteworthy that in 2018, Vestager fined Google a record 4.34 billion Euros for forcing cell phone makers, using the company’s Android operating system, to install Google search and browser apps.

Prior to that, in 2017, she also fined Google 2.42 billion Euros for manipulating online shopping search results and directing visitors to its comparison-shopping service, Google Shopping, at the expense of its rivals.

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