The European Commission has imposed a second record-breaking fine on Google, this time for abusing its dominant position in relation to internet search.
The Commission found that Google acted unlawfully and in breach of EU competition rules by imposing certain restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators.
The fine of €4.3 billion imposed on Google is the highest fine the Commission has imposed on any company for breach of competition law since Google was fined €2.42 billion in 2017 for abusing its dominance by favouring its own comparison shopping service.
What did Google do wrong?
Google acquired the Android operating system in 2005. Since then, it has become the leading operating system for smartphones and tablets in Europe. While Android is an open-source mobile operating system which can be used and developed by anyone, smartphone and tablet manufacturers must enter into agreements with Google to install Google’s applications and services on their devices.
The Commission concluded that Google abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system in three ways:
- Google required manufacturers to pre-install the Google search app and browser app (Chrome) as a condition for licencing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
- Google paid some large manufacturers and mobile network operators to pre-install the Google search app on their devices, to the exclusion of others; and
- Google prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install its apps from selling any smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android (known as ‘Android forks’) not approved by Google.
Responsibility not to abuse dominant position
Dominance on a particular market is not unlawful in itself but dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their dominant position by restricting competition. In this case, the Commission found that Google’s practices in relation to the Android operating system cemented its dominance in a number of ways. For example, by ensuring the pre-installation of its search engine and browser on almost all Google Android devices, together with exclusivity payments, the incentive for manufacturers to pre-install competing search engines was strongly reduced. In addition, the Commission found that Google obstructed the development of Android forks, which could have provided a platform for rival search engines to gain traffic. This was compounded by the fact that this allowed Google to compile more user data, thus further strengthening its position.
What will happen next?
Google has been given 90 days to end its practices. Failure to do so may result in the imposition of further fines for non-compliance of up to 5% of the average daily world-wide turnover of Google’s parent company. Third parties affected by Google’s abusive practices can also bring damages claims against Google before the national courts of EU Member States. Google has announced its intention to appeal the Commission’s decision.