back to article Google hit with record antitrust fine of €2.4bn by Europe

Google was today hit with a record antitrust fine of €2.42bn (£2.1bn) from the European Union today for promoting its own shopping search service over those of smaller rivals. The regulator found that Google had abused its market dominance as a search engine "by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its …

Re: Erm

They cant use the word monoply because despite the world not using it Bing exists and does the same thing, if your really desperate you could also use Yandex

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Re: Erm

Before the linkfarmers were banished to the wilderness beyond results page 10 I can rember having to search using a variation of:

-inurl:(ebay|kelkoo|bizrate|pixmania|dealtime|pricerunner|dooyoo|pricegrabber|pricewatch|resellerratings|shopbot|comparestoreprices|ciao|unbeatable|shopping|epinions|nextag|buy|bestwebbuys|downloadatoz|experts-exchange|softwaregeek|rapidshare|brothersoft|free-codecs|driver-download|list.driverguide|driverstock|wareseeker|members.driverguide|driverfiles|en.softonic|alivedownload|tinydl.com|aboutonlinetips.com|virus-com.com|incodesolutions|fixya|windows.bigresource|softwarermer|recipester|xiotec10.webhosting-4all|top4download|soft32.com)

Just so find the actual product i wanted for sale instead of some spammy comparison site that didnt even link to somewhere selling it, so as well as giving us the bloody annoying cookie popup perhaps we'll be getting seo stuffed chaff in our search results too, fantastic.

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Re: Erm

The reasoning seems to be that because "everybody" goes to Google first, they have acquired some responsibility to promote their competitors.

Actually if everyone comes to you first then you do have to behave differently.

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Re: Erm

I started explicitly using shop.google.com back in 2005 to get away from those other 'shopping sites.' They were all utter crap at striking the right company with near enough the right price. Further they all had the screamy-shoughty nonsense as well. Google are still doing well enough with searches turning up competitors these days,.

I don't see shopping search as a separate market which is where I differ from the EC. While searching on a product category, I get both information links as well as product shopping links. Apparently, Google doesn't see it either.

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Re: Erm

You don't actually have to change the default search engine. All you have to do is type "google.com" in the UrL bar.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Erm

"The reasoning seems to be that because "everybody" goes to Google first, they have acquired some responsibility to promote their competitors."

Agree. It seems very arbitrary. Google came up with Gmail years ago... so I guess that is ok. If they came up with email today, would they have to push some third party email or not put a Gmail link at the top of the page? The crux of this case seems to be that Google originally did not have shopping results when you looked for "grills" or "tennis racket" and now they do... so they should have promoted whatever half baked price compare service was available prior to shopping being added, apparently. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Like Google has some obligation never to add new services because, invariably, there will be some niche company that they will be impacting. Essentially telling Google to never add a new feature. I can see why the Brits wanted out of this bureaucracy.

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Re: Erm

@Robin Bradshaw: I wish I could set up a huge botnet to give your post the number of up votes it deserves.

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Re: Erm

so now you'll also have to wade through pages of results which lead to crap sites which don't even have the products you are looking for.

But that's par for the course with Google nowadays. I seldom expect to see what I am actually after on the first page, and sometimes even skip to the second page immediately.

The first page will consist of "dodgy link farmers" and paid ads by companies who do not sell what I am after.

Interestingly, those "dodgy link farmers" that often make up so much of the front page are engaging in a behaviour that Google tells you explicitly will be punished if you read their texts on how to improve your search rankings.

Actually, the above is not entirely true. I actually seldom even use Google any more, when I do it's because DDG's country-based stuff still isn't working (listening DDG? When I select "New Zealand" for my results, I mean I want pages from New Zealand, not other countries!)

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Re: Erm

You don't actually have to change the default search engine. All you have to do is type "google.com" in the UrL bar.

Interesting you say that.. I tried the Google browser on android last night. I've used it on a very small few occasions (eg when someone wanted to look something up on my tablet and I didn't want them messing with the tabs I had open in my main browser (why is it when someone borrrows your device to look at a web page, when finished they must proceed to close ALL tabs, not just the one they were using?)

Anyway, I put in the url of the vpn I'm playing with at home (open VPN with Pi-Hole) and all it does is goes to Google search. I cannot put in vpn.mydomain and get to vpn.mydomain, I instead get to a google search page with various VPN sites listed. I tried a page for a local news site (who happen to advertise heavily on Google) and it worked fine, appeared to go straight to the site without going through google's search. The URL is registered and active, but no luck visiting it.

So this is potentially even more scummy; not only not promoting the site (not that there is anything to promote, it's not something I wish for others to use except by invite) but not even letting you visit the site. (Tablet is an older model running ICS IIRC)

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Follow the Money

What/Who pockets the cash, and what is it to be spent on, if ever such fines are paid? Are such fines designed to keep idle folk busy and in some sort of a ponzi job?

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Re: Follow the Money

Fines to the European Commission are always paid. The money goes, as is usual in such cases, into the general budget. As such the money is considered to have been "returned" to the customers who ultimately suffer from the abuse of monopoly.

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Re: Follow the Money ...... Uncover a Racket

The money goes, as is usual in such cases, into the general budget. As such the money is considered to have been "returned" to the customers who ultimately suffer from the abuse of monopoly........ Charlie Clark

Considered returned by whom? It is certainly not the abused customers, is it? What an infernal internal racket such scams are.

Bigger fools are the tools which pay such monopolistic levies to whoever floats and flouts them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Follow the Money

Fines to the European Commission are always paid. The money goes, as is usual in such cases, into the general budget. As such the money is considered to have been "returned" to the customers who ultimately suffer from the abuse of monopoly.

I have yet to see the national payments to the EU being lowered as a consequence. Although I agree with the fine, it must be observed that the fine will go to a body that apparently has considerable problems keeping its accounts clean.

This is really the problem that the EU has to fix and that was used to support the Brexit argument: it is nigh impossible to declare the EU democratic in the manner it is behaves and is managed. The whole Battistelli/EPO affair is one of the more extreme examples of what needs fixing. I think they have their act together in legal affairs, but there is a need for FAR more transparency and accountability.

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Re: Follow the Money ...... Uncover a Racket

Considered returned by whom?

By the law. This is common practice with criminal fines. Whether it's for abuse of monopolies or speeding.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Follow the Money

"will go to a body that apparently has considerable problems keeping its accounts clean"

You didn't read that article correctly. It says that EU accounts are accurate but some of the spending has been handled wrongly (eg improper tendering), and specifically notes that

"While the EU is ultimately responsible for its own budget, the majority of the spending is implemented by member countries. Both the EU and member states make similar amounts of error."

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Anonymous Coward

Where's the Line?

That's quite a fine. I wonder if it's enough to breach the line where it'd be cheaper for Google to start blackmailing regulators until the fine goes away?

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Re: Where's the Line?

No. It's loose change. They made more than that just in tax credits on the losses Motorola had racked up in the 5 years before Google bought them. When they sold most of Motorola on to Lenovo, they of course kept the yummy tax credits...

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Re: Where's the Line?

@AC

I think the question should be has the EU crossed the line and how will they recover from it? The EU are charging a private business for selling its own products instead of its competitors. They are doing it because they have now only just decided that Google has market dominance and that plugging their own stuff in combination with market dominance is against the law. That sounds like the EU is making stuff up to fine Google arbitrarily.

Interestingly there doesnt seem to even be a solution to the problem, only that Google must provide a solution and then be monitored for compliance. The more I read about this the more it seems the EU is fining Google and then making up reasons to do so. How can Google have complied with a law that wasnt a law until they were fined for it?

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Re: Where's the Line?

"I think the question should be has the EU crossed the line and how will they recover from it?"

In short no. It's the European Commission, which is one of the institutions of the EU, not the EU as a whole that does this. It's also about the only governmental EU institution that is supposed to act in the best interest of Europe as a whole, as compared to EU Parliament (citizens), Council(countries) or the Committee of the regions.

So for ruling on whether something is anti-competitive is pretty much down to the EC, many of the cases are without precedent, and there are plenty of EU companies that it has ruled against.

"They are doing it because they have now only just decided that Google has market dominance "

Nope, that was decided a long time ago. You'll note that neither the EC or Google argue this point, it is accepted by both sides that Google holds a dominant market position in search. The question is whether Google is abusing it's market position. While there are a number of things that are agreed a being abuses of market position, it is possible for the EC to decide that a particular behavior is being abusive without a precedent. Obviously they'd need some evidence, but they aren't tied to just say price fixing.

"plugging their own stuff in combination with market dominance is against the law. "

Using their market dominance in search to actively promote their own product at the expense of their competitors is exactly what the issue is. It doesn't matter what the product is, the using of your market dominant position for anti-competitive purposes is.

"The more I read about this the more it seems the EU is fining Google and then making up reasons to do so. How can Google have complied with a law that wasnt a law until they were fined for it?"

If a company is in a market dominant position*** then they have to ensure their actions are not abusing the position. Their behavior has been ruled as being anti-competitive* through using a dominant market position. It's pretty clear cut. Fairly typical tech attitude, disruptive = illegal, but by the time you sue us we'll have already crushed the competition.

Almost always in these cases it comes down to economic/legal arguments about exactly what is and isn't "fair competition". I've had to read and summate (and write the odd paper on) a few dozen EC decisions, it's interesting how they come to generally correct (IMHO) decisions but with (to my mind) quite odd reasonings.

They are pretty consistent across rulings, ie Volvo heavy can't buy Scania, because bad for customers**, but could buy pretty much any other truck manufacturer without it being anti-competitive. Volvo heavy buys Renault heavy, EC says OK, referencing Scania decision.

"Interestingly there doesnt seem to even be a solution to the problem, only that Google must provide a solution and then be monitored for compliance. "

Erm, that *is* the solution. Google doesn't stop providing any of it's services, it doesn't get a monopoly taken away from it, it just stops promoting/demoting search results for shopping comparison sites. It agrees that it done bad, pays a fine, and stops doing it. Then someone checks they aren't doing it.

Not abusing your market position is a regulation you have to follow. If you don't, you get fined, and someone will be round to check that you are following it.

* Not that it matters, but I agree.

** Much of that decision was an argument between Volvo/EC over who is Volvo's customer for trucks, and do those customers have any real negotiating power.

*** The EC has definitions for this. In general, more than 25% of the market and 5 million+ a year in turnover in the EU are the minimum hurdles

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Re: Where's the Line?

@ MonkeyCee

"In short no. It's the European Commission, which is one of the institutions of the EU, not the EU as a whole that does this."

Fair point. That is why the US isnt bombing targets in the middle east, only the US military.

"It's also about the only governmental EU institution that is supposed to act in the best interest of Europe as a whole"

If ever we want an argument to leave.

"You'll note that neither the EC or Google argue this point, it is accepted by both sides that Google holds a dominant market position in search"

But dominance is not a problem. It is not a monopoly nor illegal nor wrong. It is also not a problem selling your own stuff and not selling your competitors stuff. However there is now a new crime of combining the two and with no way to avoid it be given a record fine.

"It doesn't matter what the product is, the using of your market dominant position for anti-competitive purposes is"

True except it isnt anticompetitive. Google may be the largest but there are many alternatives in a very open market. When Tesco was market leader should it be given record fines for not selling lidl stuff? Hell no.

"then they have to ensure their actions are not abusing the position"

This would be interesting to prove as they can plug their own stuff or be popular but not both it seems. They are not stopping the competition and can easily be replaced or not used. As someone has already commented this basically means Google cannot add new features as it is bound to infringe someone elses market.

"Google doesn't stop providing any of it's services, it doesn't get a monopoly taken away from it, it just stops promoting/demoting search results for shopping comparison sites"

And here is the problem. You said monopoly which is easily if mistakenly interpreted from market dominance except Google doesnt have a monopoly. It is the most popular but if it falls out of favour can be usurped by any of many others.

"It agrees that it done bad, pays a fine, and stops doing it"

Good for Google they dont seem to be going that way, "We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”

I spotted Tims article to this after my first comment-

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/06/27/against-natural-justice-eu-commission-fines-google-e2-42-billion-over-antitrust/#480fc48b35eb

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That Will Need To Be A Monthly Fine

To get their attention.

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Mushroom

Google vs Spammers

Anyone remember Kelkoo? The annoying, utterly useless links that once used to feature rather a lot in Google search results? I used to have to add "-kelkoo" to searches. A pesky SEO spammer that was, for a time, very successful.

The World at One (BBC lunchtime news) just featured an interview with a Kelkoo spokesman about the Google judgement. He was there because of Kelkoo's prominent Wormtongue role in sweet-talking the commission. If there was any doubt about it, this dispels it: this was a victory for spammers over Google.

If Google were to give in to the likes of Kelkoo, Google would become useless as a search engine.

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Re: Google vs Spammers

Surely Kelkoo went the way of the dinosaur years ago? I remember actually using them deliberately in about 2005, when I was playing with Pricerunner and Google's brilliantly named (but sadly crap) Froogle.

I think I decided Pricerunner was best, but was returning so many prices from sites I'd never heard of and on inspection wasn't willing to entrust with my credit card, that I just gave up on the lot of them.

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Anonymous Coward

If Google were to give in to the likes of Kelkoo, Google would become useless as a search engine.

And how does that relate to their abuse of their monopoly position? Just because a child abuser gives a kid an ice cream doesn't turn them into saints - that's merely self interest.

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Booyakasha!

Amazon your next!

Bring on GDPR

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WTF?

Needle past the redline...

and we look forward to continuing to make our case.

Bullshit. No one involved in litigation (except lawyers) "looks forward to" it being an ongoing thing. All parties want it over as quickly as possible (especially those in investigations that draw on for years). That's why the prosecution in many countries will try to delay a case and keep it ongoing, especially if the accused is in custody - a great way to get a guilty plea "just so it's over".

Very few people like ongoing battle. We humans get sick of it, especially when we're defending ourselves against an opponent.

It's obviously rubbish, and if they're lying about that I have to wonder, what else are they lying about?

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Anonymous Coward

Hotel?

TrivagoGoogle.

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Anonymous Coward

This will definitely start a competition war with the Trump admin... The EU is going after American tech. The Trump admin will respond in kind. Watch.

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Where does this leave Microsoft?

MS Office achieved a dominant position in its field because:

1) Microsoft used its inside knowledge of its own operating systems to give Office a performance advantage over competitors, and

2) Microsoft leveraged its monopoly of the OS market to exploit that advantage.

Microsoft still gets away with charging inflated prices for its software because of the advantage it gained from using its monopoly to stifle competitors.

I'm sure that affects thousands of times more people than could care about not using specific shopping comparison sites (because, let's face it, historically all shopping comparison sites were useless crap that nobody visited more than once.)

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Re: Where does this leave Microsoft?

You are FREE to use other peoples software.....OR develop your own and give it away.

I'm guessing you work for free, since you want companies to give away the products it produces.

The EU is breeding the entitlement mindset in it's minons....what a waste.

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Mushroom

EU hemorrhaging for other peoples money.

I'd really like to see Google shut down its services within the EU and lay off all the EU Employees (EU Taxpayers).

The EU is ruining the EU countries and finding any excuse to leach off of successful Companies.

btw. Has the EU fined any NON- United States companies?

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Did I miss the 'duckduckgo' references?

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wtf?

This honestly makes no sense. I really hope Google does win on appeal. A comparison shopping service is nothing more than a generic search engine with filters and aggregation. Does the EU actually employ anyone in the courts that understands technology? Comparison shopping was a completely logical (and obvious) extension of Google's general search engine. It may or may not be a separate "market" (whatever that means) but it is the same technology so why wouldn't Google promote its comparison shopping in search? It does the same with Image Search and that is no different (if anything Image Search is more different than comparison shopping from generic search).

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