Alphabet’s Google told Europe’s second-highest court on Wednesday (Feb. 12) that antitrust regulators had no legal grounds to levy a €2.4-billion ($2.6 billion) fine against the company, according to a report from Reuters.
Google defended its business model on the first day of a three-day hearing at the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg. The search giant said its goal is to make innovative products and accused the court of stifling innovation.
“Competition law does not require Google to hold back innovation or compromise its quality to accommodate rivals. Otherwise, competition would be restricted and innovation would be stifled,” Thomas Graf, a lawyer for Google, told a panel of five judges.
“The decision’s case is, at its core, that Google should not have introduced these innovations unless it gave competing CSSs (comparison shopping services) the same access,” Graf said.
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said in 2017 that Google abused its leadership position in search to divert traffic to its own ads and skip over the competition. The EU has fined Google a total of €8.25 billion in three separate cases.
Graf said Vestager’s findings were “wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.”
Nicholas Khan, a lawyer for the European Commission (EC), dismissed Google’s arguments.
“What Google engaged in was leveraging conduct of the type found to be abusive many times under EU competition law. Conceptually, there is nothing esoteric about this case,” Khan told the judges. “It is as if Google has applied a ranking algorithm to the decision and decided that parts of it just aren’t relevant.”
The EU’s investigation was started by the British price comparison-shopping service Foundem. Its lawyer, Thomas Vinje, said Google’s product “would never have gained prominence if Google had treated it the same way as rival products.”
“But instead of being prone to being demoted, Google’s comparison-shopping service is systematically promoted to the most visible spots in Google’s search results,” he added.
In June, Google appealed the EU’s $1.7 billion fine, which was issued in March for anti-competitive behaviors in the online advertising market.