India Hits Google With $21M Antitrust Fine For "Search Bias"

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The Competition Commission of India on Thursday issued an antitrust fine to Google amounting to over $21 million, having found the company to be abusing the dominant market position of its search engine in the South Asian country. The Alphabet-owned firm was also found to be guilty of a “search bias” that directly harmed its competitors and consumers, the regulator said, explicitly stating its “online syndicate search services” benefited from such practices over a prolonged period. The CCI also investigated Google’s AdWords and other online platforms but found no antitrust violations on these fronts.

The services that the regulator says were unfairly promoted by Google Search include a commercial flight search engine that Google prominently advertised on its results pages at a direct expense of rivaling platforms seeking to penetrate the market. The reasoning behind the fine is hence similar to the one applied by the European Commission last year who said the company was doing the same thing to illegally promote its shopping comparison service on the Old Continent, having opted to hit it with the largest antitrust fine in the history of the political bloc in mid-2017. While the $21 million figure fades in comparison with the $2.7 billion fine issued to Google in Europe, the development sets yet another precedent that may lead to more similar decisions in other parts of the world. In a statement provided to Reuters, a Google official said the tech giant is still in the process of reviewing the decision and hasn’t yet decided on its next course of action. The firm’s previous practices suggest an appeal is likely and will presumably be based on an argument that Google’s flight search service is an integral component of its Internet search engine.

The probe that led to the fine which amounts to five-percent of Google’s annual revenue in India was originally started in 2012 following complaints filed by nonprofit Consumer Unity and Trust Society and flight comparison service Bharat Matrimony. Regardless of whether the Mountain View, California-based tech juggernaut decides to appeal the verdict or not, it has to deposit the fine by early April, having been given 60 days to do so or face enforcement.