It was an intense legal battle in Europe’s top court today as Alphabet’s Google argued to overturn a 2.42 billion euro ($2.6 billion) EU antitrust fine imposed for market abuse related to its shopping service, reported Bloomberg.
The fine, which was the first of three penalties for anti-competitive practices that have cost the search giant 8.25 billion euros in total in the last decade, was originally levied by EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in 2017.
Google turned to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) after the General Court in 2021 threw out its challenge to the fine. Google lawyer Thomas Graf argued that the European Commission had failed to prove that the company’s different treatment of rivals was abusive and that different treatment alone was not anti-competitive.
“Companies do not compete by treating competitors equally with themselves,” said Thomas Graf, a lawyer for Google. “They compete by treating them differently. The whole point of competition is for a company to differentiate itself from rivals. Not to align with rivals so that all are the same.”
Fernando Castillo de la Torre, lawyer for the European Commission, hit back. “You have to decide if you want to trust the enforcement of competition to Google or the commission,” he told the hearing at the EU’s Court of Justice. He reminded the court that it’s been enforcing competition law for decades and that the 2017 penalty was the first in a series of high-profile cases where the commission sought to crack down on the dominance of Silicon Valley firms in the region.
“Google was entitled to apply algorithms that lower the visibility of certain results which were less relevant for a user query. What Google was not entitled to do was to use its dominance in general search in order to extend its position over comparison shopping by promoting results of its own services, and embellishing them with attractive features and apply algorithms that are prone to pushing down the results of rivals and showing those results without attractive features,” argued Castillo de la Torre.
Google’s legal battle comes on top of a pending EU probe into the company’s suspected stranglehold over digital advertising with the risk of another order for remedies and ahead of a potential new clampdown under the bloc’s digital markets rules which will equip regulators with new powers and which could force significant changes from tech companies in how they do business in the bloc.
The CJEU justices have yet to make a ruling. It is expected to take a few months before the judges will deliver their long-awaited judgment, which will be binding for both parties. Until then, the fate of the world’s biggest tech company remains uncertain.