Google hit with record $2.7 billion fine for skewing search results

Google has been slapped with a record €2.4 billion (approx. $2.7 billion) fine by the European Commission for skewing search results in favor of its own shopping services. The company has 90 days to “stop its illegal conduct” and begin treating other price-comparison services equally.

The EU probe, one of three into Google’s practices, found that the company has been giving prominence to its own comparison shopping service, ensuring it was displayed at or near the top of search results. This pushed out rival shopping services, not only hurting them, but denying consumers a “genuine choice,” said the EU’s antitrust chief.

“Google’s strategy for its comparison-shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals,” said Margrethe Vestager. “It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services.”

The case began seven years ago, following complaints from smaller shopping services, and other big names like News Corp. and Microsoft. European politicians have called on the EU to punish the company or even break it up, while those in the U.S. feel the EU is unfairly targeting successful American corporations.

However, Google has been pushing its own services to prominence since 2008, meaning rivals often don’t appear until page four of its search results. Given that 95 percent of all clicks happen on the first page, this has greatly reduced the traffic Google sends to rival services, while its own traffic increased 45 percent, the EU said.

“As a result of Google’s illegal practices, traffic to Google’s comparison-shopping service increased significantly, whilst rivals have suffered very substantial losses of traffic on a lasting basis.”

Google must decide how it will rectify this, and notify the EU of its plan within 60 days. Failure to comply with the order could lead to further fines of up to 5 percent of its daily revenue. It is expected that the Commission will now “swiftly conclude” its other two antitrust investigations into Google.

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