European’s regulators are expected to hit Google with a minimum one billion euro fine this summer for anti-competitive practices — that also means Google will also have to alter its business practices in Europe.
The repercussions pertain to allegations Google favors its own shopping service in search results, but it could have ramifications beyond the Google Shopping feature. Google already faces other outstanding antitrust cases in Europe.
Google declined to comment on reports of the coming fine, but the company has previously asserted that it shows the most useful results to users and does not behave in an anti-competitive manner.
We don’t yet know what specific changes the commission might require of Google, but here’s what’s at stake.
Shopping change: The EU could force Google to change its search results that would give equal weight to rival results. In other words, any retailer not advertising within Google Shopping would show up with equal prominence.
Beyond shopping: Repercussions for Google with regard to the product search antitrust case could have ramifications beyond just Google Shopping. A source familiar with Google antitrust issues said it’s possible other verticals where Google highlights certain results, such as in local results, news and image search, could be impacted.
The fine could go higher: The latest reports peg the fine hitting 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), but that figure could go as high as $9 billion. EU regulators have the authority to fine Google as much as 10 percent of its annual revenue. Alphabet generated $90 billion in sales last year.
Just Europe: The pending fine and charge will just be limited to Europe, and it’s unclear whether the commission could argue changes should apply outside Europe. But any charges here could also be seen by U.S. regulators as a roadmap for how they could also charge Google.
Trump: While the president isn’t a fan of Silicon Valley, he’s also a fan of better trade deals for U.S. companies. The coming EU ruling doesn’t relate to trade, but the Trump Administration could use it as a wedge issue for better deals for U.S. tech. Google and others want more leeway in how it makes use of data gathered overseas, and that could be one area of common ground.
Other antitrust cases: Google is also facing two other antitrust cases in Europe, one over advertising practices and another over requirements for what apps must be preloaded on Android phones. Outside the European Union, Google lost a similar case over Android apps in Russia, where Google must now allow rival apps like Russian search engine Yandex to be pre-installed on Android home screens.
While the European Commission has not waged a case against Google over plans to add features to the Chrome browser that block ads, European antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has said she is keeping an eye on the changes to Chrome.