Luxembourg: General Court confirms billion-dollar fine for Google

On November 10, 2021, the General Court upheld the fine of EUR 2.42 billion that was imposed by the European Commission (EC) on Google in 2017.

At the time, the EC found that Google had abused its dominant position in the market for general online search services in 13 countries of the European Economic Area, by favouring its own price comparison service, specifically a dedicated search service, over competing price comparison services.

The EC found that results of product searches, conducted using Google's general search engine, were positioned and displayed more prominently when the results came from Google's own shopping comparison service than when they came from competing shopping comparison services. Moreover, the latter results, displayed as simple generic results (in the form of blue links), were susceptible to downgrading by adjustment algorithms on Google's generic results pages, unlike the Google comparison Service results.

In its decision, the General Court concludes that Google has deviated from competition by favouring its own shopping comparison service on its general results pages by displaying and positioning it more favourably, while using ranking algorithms to upstage the results of competing comparison services on those pages. To that end, Google was found to favour its own comparison-shopping service over competing services, rather than a better result over another result.

As regards the effects of the practice in question on competition, the General Court recalled that an abuse of a dominant position occurs when the dominant undertaking, by using methods different from those of normal competition, hinders the maintenance of competition on the market or the development of such competition.

This can be demonstrated solely by showing that the conduct is capable of restricting competition. In doing so, the General Court rejected Google's argument that competition for comparison portals remains strong due to the existence of merchant platforms on this market, as these portals do not belong to the same market. Finally, there is little competitive pressure on Google from merchant platforms, as these are only used in a complementary way.

In conclusion, the General Court found that Google could not demonstrate efficiencies that would offset the negative effects on competition.

Google now has another legal remedy open to it to challenge the ruling. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) would be in charge of ruling on this case.

Autor: Christina Hummer