Friday 20 October 2017

Google could face European Union fines of up to €6.6bn

Google's Dublin offices
Google's Dublin offices

Foo Yun Chee in Brussels

Google last night formally rejected European Union competition authority charges of unfairly promoting its shopping service and blocking rivals in online search advertising, paving the way for regulators to rule next year on these issues and potentially impose hefty fines.

It comes six years after the European Commission opened an investigation prompted by complaints from rivals such as Microsoft and a host of European and US rivals.

The EU regulator followed up with an anti-competitive charge against the company in April last year and added more evidence in July this year. It also issued a separate charge sheet against its online search advertising product AdSense for Search at the same time.

Google is one of Ireland's biggest employers, and a massive player in the online search and advertising market globally. Its general counsel, Kent Walker, said in a blog that the accusations had no factual, legal or economic basis, and that the company's actions were driven by its users rather than any plan to squash rivals.

"We never compromised the quality or relevance of the information we displayed. On the contrary, we improved it. That isn't 'favouring' - that's listening to our customers," he said.

Mr Walker said the Commission had failed to take into account competition from Amazon, merchant platforms, social media sites, mobile web and online advertising by companies such as Facebook and Pinterest.

The EU executive said it had received Google's response.

"In each case, we will carefully consider Google's response before taking any decision on how to proceed and cannot at this stage prejudge the final outcome of the investigation," a spokesman said. Google said it rejected a Commission proposal that it charge rivals for displaying their services prominently.

In the advertising case, the company said it had scrapped provisions identified by the regulator as anti-competitive.

The Commission plans to hand down hefty fines to Google if found guilty of breaching EU rules, the charge sheet seen by Reuters showed. The penalty could reach $7.4bn (€6.6bn) or 10pc of global turnover for each case. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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