Google's EU fines hit €9bn in two years following €1.49bn fine over anti-competitive AdSense

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Google becomes fourth-biggest net contributor to EU budget over the past two years - just behind the UK, France and Germany

Google will become the fourth biggest net contributor to the EU budget of the past two years when it pays up its €1.49bn fine over anti-competitive conduct by AdSense.

The company will have been fined just under €9 billion in around two years by the European Commission in three separate actions - almost as much as the UK's annual net budget contribution.

Indeed, its latest annual report also indicated that, in 2018, Google paid more money in EU fines that it does in taxes - a trend that looks set to continue into 2019.

The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on their merits

The investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour by AdSense, Google's dominant online advertising service, started in July 2016. Reporting yesterday, the European Commission concluded that Google had abused its market dominance for ten years by preventing rivals from competing in the online search advertising intermediation market.

"The Commission found that Google's conduct harmed competition and consumers, and stifled innovation," the Commission claimed in a statement. "Google's rivals were unable to grow and offer alternative online search advertising intermediation services to those of Google.

"As a result, owners of websites had limited options for monetizing space on these websites and were forced to rely almost solely on Google."

The Commission found three types of anti-competitive behaviour in Google's ad brokering contracts:

  • Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts that meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages;
  • Google began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called 'Premium Placement' clauses that required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google's adverts;
  • Google included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed.

Outgoing competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49bn for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts.

"Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.

"The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on their merits and to innovate - and consumers the benefits of competition."

The AdSense fine comes on top of a recent €4.3 billion fine over alleged anti-competitive practices with the Android operating system, and €2.4 billion for shutting out rivals from its search service when it launched Google Shopping.

In its latest accounts, Google reported that it paid $2.7 billion in EU fines in 2017, and $5.1 billion in 2018.

This year, in addition to the €1.49 billion levied over the EU's AdSense anti-competitive, Google has also been fined €50 million by French data protection regulator CNIL following complaints that it was in breach of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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