BRUSSELS – American technology giant Google was fined 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) on Wednesday by the European Commission for blocking rival advertisers online.
It is the third time the EC has penalized the internet-related services and products multinational in the last two years.
Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, said: “Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts.”
She added that the technology company had “cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites.”
Vestager continued: “This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”
The EC said that Google has “abused its market dominance” by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites, which stopped rivals from putting their search adverts on websites.
An EC investigation found the company started including “exclusivity clauses” in its contracts in 2006, prohibiting publishers from putting any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages.
In March 2009 it gradually began replacing them with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses which required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts, according to the EC.
“As a result, Google’s competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages,” the EC said.
Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed, which allowed it to control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.
Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said the company has been in “discussions with the European Commission about the way some of our products work” for nearly a decade.
“We’ve always agreed that healthy, thriving markets are in everyone’s interest,” he said, adding: “We’ve already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the Commission’s concerns.”
He said that Google will be making “making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe” in the next few months.