Google to Face EU Antitrust Fine as Soon as Tuesday

  • EU has accused Google of unfairly promoting shopping search
  • Fine, expected to be a record, could be followed by others

Google May Be Facing a Record EU Antitrust Fine

Google is set to face a record antitrust fine from the European Union on Tuesday for promoting its own shopping search service over those of smaller rivals, according to two people familiar with the probe that has dramatically sped up in recent days.

The fine for Alphabet Inc.’s Google, expected to top a previous $1.2 billion record, will skirt the usual rules that see all of the EU’s 28 commissioners discuss controversial decisions at a weekly meeting, usually on a Wednesday. Instead, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will lay out a ruling that’s been rubber-stamped by her colleagues in a so-called written procedure, said one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The EU accelerated action on a decision in recent days. Officials who’d previously targeted a July date had brought that forward to this week, one person said. Multiple Google representatives still hadn’t been told of the EU’s timetable as of early Monday. While the EU isn’t required to inform companies, it often does so as a courtesy.

The rapid pace comes after a lengthy seven-year probe fueled by complaints from small shopping websites as well as bigger names, including News Corp., Axel Springer SE and Microsoft Corp. European politicians have called on the EU to sanction Google or even break it up while U.S. critics claim regulators are targeting successful American firms.

The EU decision has the potential to be “the most significant antitrust enforcement” since the U.S. Justice Department sued Microsoft Corp. about 20 years ago, said Luther Lowe, the vice president of public policy at online review site Yelp Inc.

If the ruling goes beyond just shopping, it could force Google to change how competing products are displayed in search results. "That is the more troubling thing for Google," Lowe said. 

To read more about the EU’s Google antitrust probe click here

The EU’s investigation focuses on how Google shows searches for products, a lucrative market that links consumers to retailers. Smaller price-comparison websites say they’ve been harmed because Google’s own shopping service prominently shows photos and prices of products above search results and Google fails to show rival sites high enough in the search results to allow them to pull in any meaningful advertising revenue.

Google said it was continuing to engage constructively with the European Commission and believes "strongly that our innovations in online shopping have been good for shoppers, retailers and competition."

The EU’s press office declined to comment. The Financial Times reported earlier that a fine may come this week.

Lowe, who said he’s traveled to Brussels more than a dozen times over the last four years, said Yelp and other Google rivals in the U.S. played a big part lobbying the European Commission to take action because regulators in the U.S. weren’t as receptive to their arguments.

"When I’d enter the room, half the time, my counterpart at another U.S. company would be walking out," Lowe said. 

— With assistance by Stephanie Bodoni, and Adam Satariano

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