European Union slaps Google with $1.7-billion fine in advertising case

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Alphabet Inc.'s Google was fined 1.49 billion euros (US$1.7 billion) by the European Union for thwarting advertising rivals, a penalty that may be EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager's third and final attack on the USA tech giant.

This practice began in 2006 according to the Commission with Google including exclusivity clauses into its contracts that prohibited third-party websites from using other online advertising companies. Sites that participated in Google's "AdSense for Search" program could take advantage of Google's search tools on their Web pages, and users who searched those sites would see results alongside ads served up by Google.

In a press release, Vestager stated: Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts. It was presented as part of a series of recent changes that Google is making to Android and its online shopping service-the targets of the first two EU charges-in order to address the European Commission's demands.

The European Commission reviewed "hundreds" of Google advertising contracts and found a range of behavior from Google's Ad division that it deemed anti-competitive.

Last year, Vestager fined Google a record 4.34 billion euros ($5 billion at the time) for forcing cellphone makers using the company's Android operating system to install Google search and browser apps.

"Now we'll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones", Google executive Kent Walker wrote in a blog.

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In June 2017, the Commission fined Google €2.42 billion for abusing its dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to Google's own comparison shopping service.

Google "prevented its rivals from having a chance to innovate and to compete in the market on their merits", Vestager said.

One of the more worrying findings was that, from 2009, the Mountain View company required publishers to gain written approval from Google before making visual changes to rival ads.

Google has been scathing about the European Union probes, claiming they lack evidence.

Google on Tuesday unveiled a series of tweaks to its European search engine results in an effort to avoid further fines from the EU's top anti-trust regulator.

The EU announced the fine Wednesday, saying Google's practices harm competitors. "In the Google Android case, it has the potential to give users a real choice about what search and browser they want on their Android device".

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