European Commission Poised to Issue Major Fine to Google

The European Commission in Brussels is at the end of its seven-year investigation of Google and preparing to issue a record-breaking fine, expected to be about 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion). To date, the toughest fine the Commission has issued was 1.1 billion euros, levied at Intel. Inside sources say the announcement will likely come before the summer break, possibly as early as next week, and that the final amount hasn’t been decided upon, with the maximum possible at around 6.6 billion euros, or a tenth of Google’s total annual sales.

The Telegraph reports the fine represents a “watershed moment in Silicon Valley’s competition battle with Brussels.” The formal charge is that Google promoted “price comparison service in general search results while simultaneously relegating those of smaller rivals, denying them traffic.”

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A new investigation alleges Google has committed further monopoly abuse related to its Android smartphone software. The Commission’s competition commissioner Margarethe Vestager “raised the possibility of further charges,” related to travel information, maps and other specialized Web search markets.

Because Google changed its algorithms during the investigation, making it even harder for its competitors, the European Commission, which has also identified “delaying tactics during the investigation,” could “make an example” of the company. The fine is also likely to “take account of the fact that Google abused its monopoly on general Web search over many years.” In addition to the fine, the Commission will ban Google from “continuing to manipulate search results to favor itself and harm rivals.”

For its part, Google tried unsuccessfully to assuage regulators’ concerns with “offers to redesign the presentation of results.” Previous competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia tried to make a deal with Google and avoid filing formal charges but Vestager has been more aggressive, pushing for a fine that will “signal a rejection of Google’s arguments that because Amazon and eBay are successful competition is thriving online.”

Although Google has declined to comment, the company could bring the fight against new search rules and the fine to the European Court of Justice.