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EU Expected to Hit Google with Another Massive Antitrust Fine

March 15, 2019, 12:17 PM UTC

If you thought the European Commission was done hitting Google with massive fines, think again.

Having already whacked the U.S. company with a $2.7 billion fine in 2017 (for disadvantaging comparison-shopping rivals in its search results) and a $5 billion fine last year (for disadvantaging software rivals in the Android ecosystem,) the Commission will reportedly issue another financial penalty next week.

The fine’s imminent nature was reported Friday by the Financial Times, citing three unnamed sources. The Commission and Google both declined to provide comment on the report.

It is all about Google’s restrictions on the “AdSense for Search” boxes that third-party websites use to make it easier for users to search their sites. Searches conducted through the boxes bring up Google ads and, with Google having such a dominant position in the European online search advertising market, the Commission warned the company in 2016 that it believed the company was illegally abusing its position.

The Commission at the time complained about three things: that Google was forcing the third-party websites not to source search ads from competitors; that it required them to reserve the most prominent spots in its search results pages for Google ads; and that Google required them to seek its approval every time they wanted to change the display of competing search ads.

Google has since 2016 phased out such contractual terms in order to address the Commission’s concerns, though that would not change the fact that—per the Commission’s allegations—it was breaking EU antitrust law for a decade.

The company is still appealing its previous fines. As for the level of fine that can be expected this time around, the maximum would be around $13 billion. However, the FT reports it’s likely to be substantially lower than that. It also claims that the Commission is mulling potential probes in other areas of Google’s business, such as the way it behaves in the travel and local-business arenas.

If successful, the Adsense for Search fine could prove to be the swansong of Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who was responsible for all Google’s EU antitrust fines in the last few years.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s reign as head of the Commission ends later this year and, while Vestager may be keen to stay in her post, that’s not up to her—Denmark would need to re-nominate her as its representative in the Commission, the new Commission president would have to want to keep her in the competition directorate, and the new European Parliament would need to approve her for the position.