Google may be facing down a fine of up to $9 billion from EU antitrust authorities in relation to their ongoing investigation of the company’s Google Shopping portal, and sources say that the authorities want to hit Google with the fine by August. If authorities do go through with levying such a fine, the decision may serve as a catalyst in other ongoing cases involving the US internet giant. Google, for its part, has spent the last seven years of the investigation denying the EU’s charges and competitors’ complaints. According to Google, the success of eBay and Amazon is proof that it’s not engaging in any anti-competitive behavior when it comes to online shopping.
The long investigation centers around allegations that Google has essentially been turning consumers using their services to search for goods away from competitors. This has supposedly been accomplished through means like selective showing of search results, along with product reviews that made products from Google and its sponsor outlets seem like a better fit than others. While eBay and Amazon have indeed ballooned as Google suggested, other online shopping services and retailers have been lodging complaints with the EU and other authorities, saying that they’re seeing less traffic because people using Google Shopping were either shown other products in a better light than their own, or never got to see their products.
Google has been going back and forth over this issue with EU authorities for some time. Previous commissioner Joaquin Almunia shot down three attempts by Google to settle the score in one fell swoop, and current commissioner Margrethe Vestager has echoed that sentiment. This case is likely influenced in no small part by the backlash from a recent deal over back taxes and the use of tax havens that saw Google paying out a smaller amount than some would have argued is fair. The same issue that was settled over with EU authorities still looms large over Google’s international operations in many countries, and antitrust regulators in the US have been giving the search giant a hard look for similar reasons. Google’s sheer size and popularity naturally open it to this sort of criticism, especially since Search and Android take up much of their respective markets.