Google has been hit with a record US$2.7bn (£2.1bn) fine from the European Commission after a seven-year investigation found that the tech giant had abused its internet search monopoly.
The regulator said Google had broken EU law by exploiting its dominant position to promote its own shopping comparison service at the top of its search results pages, at the expense of its competitors.
The fine is believed to be the largest competition penalty dished out by the Commission, doubling the previous record handed to Intel back in 2009.
“[Google] abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors,” said European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.
.@Google gave illegal advantage to own comparison shopping service by abusing its search dominance: It must stop & pay fine of €2,4 bn.— Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) June 27, 2017
On top of the money, Vestager also ordered Google to end its anti-competitive practices within 90 days, or risk having to pay out billions more in other fines.
The investigation dates back to the start of this decade but Google – which has always denied its practices unfairly stunted competition – was only served with formal charges a couple of years ago.
You’ve likely seen Google Shopping results at the top of the page when searching for a particular product or item online.
It displays relevant images, prices, the name of shop and review scores if they’re available. These comparison lists are labelled as ‘sponsored’ reflecting the fact that only products paid for by the seller appear.
The EU found that since 2008, Google has “systematically” ranked its own price comparison service higher than its rivals, hence why it can always be found at the top of the first page of searches.
'All the makings of a brand disaster'
There's no doubt that Google and its parent company, Alphabet, can afford the fine given that the whole group is worth the best part of US$700bn with US$172bn of assets.
The true cost might run deeper than that though, with commentators suggesting the company's reputation could take a hit as a result of the ruling.
"Given the depth of Google's pockets, this is by no means a commercial disaster but it has the makings of a brand disaster,” said Rupert Bhatia of Rhizome Media.
"Google has always presented itself as ‘the good guy’ of technology, but if this fine stands then it would be harder for them to argue that.
"The record fine handed out to Google by the European Commission will be seen by many as a victory for e-commerce companies that operate in the shadow of giants.”
Alphabet shares fell 1.51% in afternoonb trade in New York on Tuesday to US$957.
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