‘A Clear Infraction’: EU Judge Has Stern Words for Google Conduct

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — It was a challenging day for Google as a judge on the EU’s second-highest court had terse words for the Silicon Valley giant about its anticompetitive behavior.

“You have promoted your own service and demoted that of others,” said Irish Judge Colm Mac Eochaidh, part of a panel of five presiding over the three-day hearing at the European General Court in Luxembourg. “That is a clear infraction.”

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager holds a 2018 press conference at the European Commission building in Brussels on a competition case involving Google. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Picking up the question session in the so-called “Google Shopping case” that began late on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday’s proceedings ran well into the evening as lawyers for Google protest a $2.6 billion antitrust fine levied by the European Commission in 2017.

Specifically the European Union’s administrative body accuses Google of having abused its dominant position in the search market to undercut rivals of its Comparison Shopping Service.

Google is joined by the tech lobbying group Computer and Communications Industry Association while the European Commission has been joined by nine parties, including the German government, the European Consumer Organization and shopping-comparison site Kelkoo.

Google’s lawyers argued that the company can’t be compelled to give competitors a preferential position in search results in the same way the court did not compel the Austrian newspaper publisher Mediaprint to let rival publisher Oscar Bronner access its distribution system. In the landmark Bronner decision in 1998, the EU’s highest court found that it would be a “reduction of the incentive to invest to essential facilities” if companies could be required to share them with competitors.

Shopping service competitors have argued, however, that all they want is for Google to offer equal access to the “front page of the internet,” as the European Commission calls it. Google dominates the search market, taking 90% of all queries and its name has become synonymous with an internet search.

“If you are not seen, you cannot be found and you do not exist,” said Stephen Kinsella, on behalf of online price comparison site Kelkoo. Earlier in the day, another lawyer for Kelkoo described how traffic from Google dropped 98% following Google’s entry into the comparison-shopping market in 2011.

When it was levied in 2017, the 2.4 billion euro ($2.6 billion) fine was the largest to date given by Brussels. That was topped in 2018 by a 4.3 billion euro ($4.7 billion) fine, also against Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., for favoring its own apps in the Android mobile phone platform app store.

The European Commission defends its calculation of the fine during Friday’s hearings followed by closing statements.

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