Global efforts to reduce the power of the world’s largest tech companies took a major legal victory on Wednesday when a European Union court gave its blessing to a record billion-dollar fine imposed against Google in 2018.
The decision of the General Court in Luxembourg gives new impetus to European regulators who have investigated companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple for anti-competitive business practices. The fine of 4.34 billion euros (5.1 billion dollars in 2018) was the highest ever handed out by a European competition authority. The court on Wednesday agreed that Google violated antitrust laws by using its Android smartphone technology and its dominance in that market to bolster its search engine leadership.
A legal defeat would have tarnished the European Union’s reputation as one of the world’s most aggressive tech regulators, just as the bloc has pledged to further curb Big Tech. Antitrust regulators in Brussels, led by Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president in charge of digital and competition policy, have other investigations pending against Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta. And this year, EU policymakers passed new laws on competition and internet content moderation that give regulators even more power to target the tech industry.
Google said it was disappointed in the decision, but did not say whether it would appeal to the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest court. “Android has created more choice for everyone, not less, supporting thousands of successful businesses in Europe and around the world,” the company said in a statement.
The Android case remains one of the world’s most aggressive regulatory measures ever taken against a tech company. In the 2018 decision, Google was found to have illegally used Android to secure the dominance of its search engine. Regulators said the company struck deals that required smartphone makers like Samsung and Huawei relying on Android to make Google the default search engine, knocking out smaller rivals like DuckDuckGo and Bing. Google now offers European users of Android devices a screen to choose from several search engines.
Victory was not assured for European regulators, who had lost previous appeals for sanctions, including against semiconductor companies Intel and Qualcomm. On Wednesday, the court almost completely sided with regulators, although it slightly reduced the fine to $4.125 billion (worth $4.13 billion at current exchange rates), over calculations involving revenue-sharing agreements Google has signed up for. had concluded with telephone manufacturers and network operators.