The world’s most popular internet search engine has launched its appeal after it was fined by the European commission for what was described as an “old school” form of illegality.
The Luxembourg-based general court, Europe’s second-highest, is expected to take several years before ruling on Google’s appeal, which had been widely expected. The Silicon Valley giant had responded to the fine at the time of its announcement by saying that it “respectfully” disagreed with the legal argument being pursued.
A spokesman for the commission said: “The commission will defend its decision in court.”
In June, the EU official in charge of competition policy, commissioner Margrethe Vestager, told reporters that Google, a unit of US parent company Alphabet, had artificially and illegally promoted its own price comparison service in searches, denied both its consumers real choice and rival firms the ability to compete on a level playing field.
“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” Vestager said. “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.”
It was claimed by Brusels that the abuse caused traffic to Google’s shopping service to jump 45-fold in the UK, 35-fold in Germany and 19-fold in France.
The commission, which ordered Google to stop the practice by 28 September, is reviewing the company’s proposal on how it would comply with the EU decision. A spokeswoman for the general court in Luxembourg said Google had not asked for an interim order to suspend the EU decision, leaving it potentially open to fines for every day it fails to reform its ways.
Lobby group FairSearch, whose members include Google rivals such as British shopping comparison site Foundem and US travel site TripAdvisor, said the EU decision was sound.
“The commission’s decision stands on firm ground, both legally and factually, and we expect the commission to win on appeal,” FairSearch lawyer Thomas Vinje said.
The commission’s fine of €2,424,495,000 was said to take into account the “duration and gravity of the infringement”, and was based on Google’s revenue from its comparison shopping service in the 13 countries where the illegality occurred.
Google may take confidence on an unexpected reversal for Brussels last week when the European court of justice ordered a lower tribunal to re-examine Intel’s appeal against a €1.06bn fine, the previous record for an anti-trust case.
The Google case is different, but the judgment has been welcomed by companies under EU scrutiny because it raises the bar for the regulator to prove wrongdoing.
The EU is currently also investigating whether Google tried to squeeze out its rivals in online search advertising and through its Android mobile operating system.