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Google loses bid to overturn €2.4bn antitrust fine

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Google antitrust case
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

Google (GOOG) on Wednesday morning lost an appeal to overturn a 2017 decision by the European Commission to fine the tech giant €2.4bn ($2.8bn, £2.05bn). 

The Commission said Google had given preferential treatment to its own price-comparison shopping service over rival services. 

“The General Court finds that, by favouring its own comparison shopping service on its general results pages through more favourable display and positioning, while relegating the results from competing comparison services in those pages by means of ranking algorithms, Google departed from competition on the merits,” the court said.

Google can appeal the decision in the European Court of Justice, the EU's highest court. 

The landmark ruling by the General Court serves to bolster EU efforts to rein in big tech and was the first of three issued by the European Commission's top antitrust boss Margrethe Vestager. It has been watched as a bellwether for the court's views of how the EC uses antitrust law. 

Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB) are also in the spotlight. 

The proposed fine was record-setting at the time it was handed out. Although it is hefty in those terms, it is only worth five days of Google's yearly revenue. 

The new record was set in 2018, when the EC fined the search giant €4.34bn for illegally using the android operating system to bolster use of its search engine. 

"The fine of €2.42 Bn is upheld, but even such a staggeringly high fine unlikely deters a company of Google’s financial capability," said Jonas Koponen, antitrust & foreign investment partner at Linklaters.

"The Court also upheld the findings on effects on competition, but it is striking that the remedies put in place to redress those effects appear not to have been effective either. 

"A large number of industry participants say that Google’s conduct has not changed in a way that allows flourishing competition in comparison shopping. Truly effective remedies remain an issue."

Read more: Supreme Court rules in favour of Google in covert data collection judgment

A Google spokesperson said: "Shopping ads have always helped people find the products they are looking for quickly and easily, and helped merchants to reach potential customers. 

"This judgement relates to a very specific set of facts and while we will review it closely, we made changes back in 2017 to comply with the European Commission's decision. Our approach has worked successfully for more than three years, generating billions of clicks for more than 700 comparison shopping services.” 

Watch: Facebook's Meta to ban adverts that target people on 'sensitive topics' politics, race and sexual orientation

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