On Wednesday, the second highest court in the European Union overwhelmingly upheld the EU’s record fine against Google for its Android operating system for mobile phones and slightly reduced the fee for technical reasons.
In a statement, the EU’s General Court said it “broadly upholds the Commission’s decision that Google imposed unlawful restrictions” on Android mobile device makers’ use of its search engine.
But the court said the fine should be reduced slightly to €4.125 billion ($4.1 billion), instead of the €4.3 billion the commission decided in 2018 after reviewing the duration of the violation.
The levy remains the largest in the EU to date, despite Google’s arguments that the Commission’s case was unfounded and falsely based on allegations it made of its search engine and Chrome browser on Android phones.
The company has also advanced the case that the EU has been wrongly blind to the strength of Apple, which imposes or clearly favors its own services like Safari on iPhones.
Google insisted that downloading competing apps was just a click away and that customers were in no way locked into Google products on Android.
The EU and the complainants replied that in the early days of Android, Google used contracts with phone manufacturers to stifle competitors.
“This shows that the European Commission got it right,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing FairSearch, whose original complaint started the case in 2013.
“Google can no longer impose its will on phone manufacturers. Now they can open up their devices to competition in search and other services, giving consumers more choice,” he added.
The court’s decision is not necessarily the end of the story. Both sides can turn to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, for a final decision on the fine, which was worth the equivalent of $5 billion when it was imposed.
The Android case was the third of three major cases brought against Google by EU competition czar Margrethe Vestager, whose lawsuits were the first in the world to target the Silicon Valley giants directly.
Since then, global regulators have followed suit, and Google is facing a spate of cases in the US and Asia based on similar allegations.
Last year, South Korea fined Google nearly $180 million for abusing its supremacy in a similar case.
Vestager has already won a €2.4 billion fine for abusing its search engine dominance against Google in a separate case against Google. As expected, the tech giant appealed this setback to the Supreme Court.
However, the EU has recently lost cases involving the microchip industry.
Vestager’s team lost an appeal against a $1 billion fine imposed on Qualcomm in the same court in June.
That was followed by another setback in January, when the EU lost court support for a €1.06 billion fine against Intel.
Frustrated by how long it takes to prosecute competition cases, Brussels has since passed the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which puts a much tighter rein on how big tech can do business.
The new law, due to take effect next year, would establish a do’s and don’ts rulebook for big tech companies like Google and Facebook.
The DMA contains specific bans or restrictions on Google, Apple and other gatekeepers from advertising their own services on platforms.