The European Commission has won a major battle in a long-drawn-out lawsuit against Google. The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg has ruled that the commission was right to fine the tech giant in 2017 for an abuse of power of more than 2.4 billion euros.
The case concerns Google Shopping, a price comparison service of the tech giant. The group has always disagreed with the commission’s fine. Both parties can still appeal to the European Court of Justice.
There is a very good chance that Google is planning this, although it does not say anything about it in an initial response. In it, the company says that the ruling concerns specific cases, that it will study the verdict and points out that it has made changes after the fine decision in 2017. The European Commission said in a statement that today’s decision “clearly sends the message that Google’s conduct was illegal and provides legal clarity to the market”.
Due to this court ruling, the committee’s strategy is rock solid, says professor of competition law Hans Vedder (University of Groningen). “The judgment of the court is very well thought out. I think lawyers at other tech companies will now also be scratching their heads.” Vedder also does not expect that the court will come to a completely different outcome if Google appeals.
The verdict has been long awaited. “The case is so exciting because competition law, which has been around for a long time, is now being applied to large tech companies for the first time,” says professor of competition law Anna Gerbrandy (Utrecht University). “It is the first case that has been assessed by the court and in which the committee has been proven right.”
The issue has been going on for more than a decade and is essentially about what you might call Google’s storefront. If you search for things like a bicycle, bath towels or shoes, you will also see a sponsored ‘shop window’ with product images, price and website in addition to regular links. According to the European Commission, Google has favored its own price comparator over other price comparators.
The Google Shopping case is essentially about this:
In addition to a fine, Google also had to make changes. This led to other price comparison sites also being given the opportunity to stand in the shop window. At the beginning of last year, at the start of the hearings in this case in Luxembourg, three Dutch price comparators told NOS that they would participate, but there was no enthusiasm.
According to Gerbrandy, we can now expect that the European Commission will also take up matters that are still on the shelf. “And we can expect to see claims for damages from companies that have been affected by the behavior of Google or other tech companies.”
In a first reaction, the price comparators react with satisfaction. But Joris Verwater of Compare.nl does not yet know whether his company will also file a claim for damages. “The question is whether it’s worth it.” He points out that Google has a lot of legal clout. “You just have to feel like it.” Kees Verpalen from Beslist.nl is also happy. He says he is thinking about a claim for damages, but emphasizes that it may take some time before there is real clarity. After all, there may still be an appeal.
Nine things together
A total of four cases are pending from the European Commission against Google. Fines have been imposed in three of them, amounting to a total amount of more than 8 billion euros. The tech giant is appealing all fines. In September, the hearings were held in the second appeal case, which revolves around abuse of power via Android. In addition, there are also investigations into Apple, Amazon and Facebook. All in all, it’s about nine things.