Berlin The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) sided with the EU Commission and declared the highest penalty ever imposed in Europe by a competition authority to be lawful. However, after a reassessment of the infringement, the judges on Wednesday reduced the fine by about five percent to now about 4.1 billion euros.
The world’s largest search engine provider is unhappy with the ruling. “We are disappointed that the court did not completely annul the Commission’s original decision. Android has created not less, but more choices for everyone. In addition, Android supports thousands of successful companies in Europe and around the world,“ said a Google spokesperson.
The US group initially left open whether it would take action against the verdict and appeal. Some time will be needed to decide on next steps, they said.
The Federal Association of Digital Publishers and Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) and the Media Association of the Free Press (MVFP) welcomed the verdict. “The judgment confirms that the Commission’s decision has perfectly demonstrated the significant damage that Google’s conduct caused to competition,” said both associations, which supported the EU Commission as an intervener in the court proceedings.
At the same time, they pointed out that there were “significant concerns” that Google had adequately implemented the measures proposed by the Commission. Fairsearch, a group of organisations campaigning against Google’s dominance of online search and related practices, said: “This victory will encourage the Commission to enforce its new regulation to curb big tech, the Digital Markets Act.“
Vestager wants to promote competition
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s back is once again strengthened by the ruling. It has set itself the goal of limiting the market power of the large US technology companies and promoting competition. On the occasion of the Commission’s decision four years ago, it had stated that the pre-installation of Google as a standard search engine ensured that consumers also used it instead of downloading a competitor’s application.
This time she did not comment at first. The antitrust authorities accuse Google of unfairly favoring its own online offers on Android smartphones. The Android operating system, which is used by manufacturers such as Samsung, Oppo or Xiaomi, is the most widely used smartphone software with a market share of around 80 percent. Apple’s iPhones with their iOS system do the rest.
Android is developed by Google and is basically free for device manufacturers. However, there were some limitations: for example, the general search app Google Search and the Chrome browser had to be preinstalled in order for Google providers to receive a license to use the app store. This upset the EU Commission and the ECJ also spoke of a deliberate infringement. Google changed its business model in 2018 and now allows manufacturers to integrate individual services without Chrome and web search.
In addition to the bundling of the app offer, the Brussels authority also criticized the so-called “anti-fragmentation agreement”, according to which mobile device manufacturers received required licenses only if they pledged not to sell devices equipped with versions of the Android operating system that were not approved by Google. Google also lifted this restriction in 2018.
The commission’s third allegation was that Google only shared the proceeds from advertising in the search app with device manufacturers if they were exclusively installed on smartphones and tablets. Since 2018, however, the Alphabet subsidiary has been offering new license agreements for the non-exclusive use of the app.
Google faces many lawsuits
The US group, like Facebook and Apple, is fighting numerous legal disputes around the globe. Since 2017, the Brussels authority has imposed several penalties on Google, some of them of historic proportions. Only last year, the ECJ had confirmed a multibillion-dollar penalty against Google for favoring its own price comparison service.
Both before the EU Court and before the ECJ, several lawsuits by Google against Commission decisions are still pending. Several decisions are also pending in the United States. In South Korea, Google and the Facebook parent company Meta have to pay fines in the tens of millions for violations of data protection rules, as a court ruled on Wednesday.
With agency material.