European Union’s antitrust watchdog in the coming weeks is set to hit
Alphabet’s Google with a record fine for manipulating its search results
to favor its own comparison-shopping service, according to people
familiar with the matter.
The fine could reach as high as 10% of the company’s yearly revenue
which stood at $90.27 billion last year.
But more painful to Google than a sizable fine could be other
consequences that come with the European Commission’s decision,
including changes not only to the tech giant’s business practices with
its shopping service but with other services as well. The EU’s decision
could also embolden private litigants to seek compensation for damages
at national courts.
The EU is likely to demand Google treat its own comparison shopping
service equally with those of its competitors, such as Foundem.co.uk and
Kelkoo.com, possibly requiring the search giant to make rival services
more visible on its own platform than they are at present. Such
companies rely on traffic to their site from search engines like
The EU has been in talks with some of the complainants about how Google
should change its search results, though any precise order would likely
only be hammered out after a decision is announced.
Google general counsel Kent Walker has previously argued that forcing
the company to place competitors’ product ads in its search results
"would just subsidize sites that have become less useful for consumers."
The regulator’s move would come as welcome relief to a range of web
companies, large and small and both European and American, who have been
urging the EU for years to take antitrust action against Google. News
Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, has formally complained to the
EU about Google’s conduct with its search service for news articles.
The watchdog first opened its investigation into Google’s practices in
2010. The former competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia later engaged
in more than two years of talks with Google to try to settle the case.
But outcries from competitors, as well as from politicians in Germany
and France, led the EU in 2014 to reject Google’s offers as
That led the way for Mr. Almunia’s successor, current EU antitrust chief
Margrethe Vestager, to become the first regulator to file formal
accusations against Google in April 2015 when she issued a so-called
"statement of objections" in the comparison shopping case. 。
An EU decision against Google would set the regulator apart from
authorities in the U.S. who closed their own investigation into Google’s
search practices in 2013 after the company agreed to voluntary changes.
That European regulators decided to move against Google when their U.S.
counterparts held back could in part reflect the company’s higher market
share on the continent, where it captures about 90% of the search
A decision in the shopping case could also create possible precedents
for how the U.S. technology company operates in other domains, including
with its local or travel services-areas the EU has also been
investigating. Following its decision in the shopping case, the EU could
decide to escalate investigations into the company’s behavior with its
other specialized search services if Google doesn’t alter its behavior
in the other services as well.