Google appeals record €2.4 billion antitrust fine over manipulated search results

Google today appealed the record €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion USD) antitrust fine levied against it by the European Union back in June over allegations the company promoted its own price comparison services over competitors’. The fine is the largest antitrust penalty in the history of the European Commission, the executive body and antitrust watchdog of the EU. Google was asked at the time to alter its practices by September 28th, following the EU’s findings after a seven-year investigation into the company’s allegedly anticompetitive search behavior.

Google’s response with just a few weeks to spare is an expected one, and the Luxembourg-based general court — the second-highest judicial body in Europe — may not issue a ruling on the appeal for several years. Emboldening Google is a decision from the EU’s Court of Justice last week that saw a $1.3 billion antitrust fine against Intel sent back to a lower court, dealing a blow to the commission by opening the possibility the fine could be lowered or erased and giving tech giants the confidence to more aggressively fight the EU on antitrust issues.

The commission, in its findings, said Google’s manipulation of search results to promote its own price comparison shopping service within its search engine led to as much as a 45-fold boost in traffic in the UK alone. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said at the time. “It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.” Google disputed the findings, saying its actions did not adversely affect competition in the online shopping market in Europe.

While antitrust-related legal battles have been known to drag on for years and become mired in regulatory minutiae, Google’s case has already made headlines for a high-profile incident involving a prominent academic critic. The New York Times reported late last month that Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and current executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, pressured the New America think tank to cut ties with Open Markets, a program run by researcher Barry Lynn, after Lynn and his group praised the EU’s fine. Lynn was then let go by New America, which has received more than $21 million in funding from Google and Schmidt himself over the years.

Lynn is now starting an independent think tank to continue Open Markets’ mission, while New America President and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter has taken to a number of different online outlets to defend Lynn’s firing as unrelated to his Google criticism. Still, that Google’s presence in the advocacy, research, and think tank realms is one of outsize financial influence has set off red alarms in academia and beyond. It’s also shaped the case against Google, painting the company as an anticompetitive corporate behemoth willing to spend money to squash criticism and eager to fight a protracted legal battle with the EU to escape the multi-billion dollar fine.

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