Google has 90 days to change its practices or face further penalties.
The European Union slapped Google with a record-breaking $2.7 billion fine on Tuesday, charging that the U.S. tech giant had manipulated search results in a way that gives an “illegal advantage” to its own services while harming the company’s rivals.
The punishment — announced at a press conference by Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s leading competition official — follows a seven-year investigation into Google and requires the company to change its practices within 90 days or face additional penalties.
At issue for EU regulators is Google’s comparison shopping service, which Vestager believes the company had boosted unfairly by giving it “prominent placement” in search results — all the while having “demoted rival comparison shopping services.”
“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” Vestager said in a statement. “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.”
Google long has rejected the EU’s charges — and in a statement Tuesday, the company maintained it displays its results in a way that helps consumers “find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily.”
“That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both,” continued Kent Walker, the search giant’s general counsel, in a blog post. “We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”
Europe’s decision to punish marks a sharp departure from the approach taken by U.S. regulators, who closed their antitrust probe of Google’s search business without significant penalty in 2013. Nor is it the EU’s sole investigation into the tech giant: Vestager has brought similar complaints against Google related to its Android operating system and its online advertising practices, both of which remain unresolved.
Some of Google’s loudest critics in the EU have been its rivals in the United States, like Yelp, News Corp and Oracle, which wrote the commission again on Tuesday to stress the ways in which Google has tried to “undermine competition” around the world.