back to article Google loses appeal against $2.7bn EU antitrust fine for distorting competition in price comparison websites

The EU's General Court this morning upheld the record €2.42bn fine imposed on Google in 2017 for violating the European Commission's antitrust laws with the way it treated searches on Google's shopping comparison service. The commission said it "recognises the anticompetitive nature of the practice at issue." The General …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Cost of doing business

    If profit was higher than the fine, then this is just a cost of doing business.

    If the fine has not been distributed to parties affected by Google behaviour, nor Google has made any significant amendmends, this was just a typical gravy train for lawyers and civil servants.

    If this has significantly inhibited growth of domestic corporations, then even with the fine, this is a huge loss to the economy and the tax payer.

    What's the point of having such ineffective laws?

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Cost of doing business

      Love the way you go from pseudo-hypotheticals to a conclusion based on those fantasies being reality.

      "If profit was higher than the fine"

      It wasn't. The reverse is true, to a significant - orders of magnitude - degree.

      "If the fine has not been distributed to parties affected by Google behaviour, nor Google has made any significant amendmends"

      The first is not how fines work. The second is, again, just your fantasy.

      "If this has significantly inhibited growth of domestic corporations"

      It hasn't.

      "What's the point of having such ineffective laws?"

      Nothing. That's why we don't have them.

      What's the point imagining how this stuff is done and getting it wrong, instead of looking it up? Apart from pandering to your own prejudices, that is?

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Coffee money 4 years on

    "the record €2.42bn fine imposed on Google in 2017

    The big problem is that due to the transnational nature of the offender, fines are the only feasible sanction, as no legislative control directly over behaviour can be made to stick across jurisdictions. And maximum fines are limited by the need of statute to consider the general case, of which these behemoths are exceptions.

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Coffee money 4 years on

      A fine expressed as a percentage of gross revenue can work for both the general case and megacorps.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Coffee money 4 years on

      I think the only way to ensure effectiveness would be to order company to completely stop any commercial activity in the country.

      They should be given a 6-12 month notice and within that time frame they should make amends or move their customers to alternative platforms and pay for inconvenience and any costs of moving.

      If there is no alternative service, the company should be forced to commit a certain amount of money for such alternative service to be built by the state or simply all their operation in the given country should be seized and then auctioned.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Coffee money 4 years on

        "If there is no alternative service, the company should be forced to commit a certain amount of money for such alternative service to be built by the state or simply all their operation in the given country should be seized and then auctioned."

        I'm no fan of Google, but they fudged search rankings to favour themselves; they didn't drop a nuke on somebody. Punishments need to be proportionate; so in this case big enough to hurt, but not so big as to effectively destroy them.

        As a previous poster said, a fine expressed as a % of global net profit would be the right way to go.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Coffee money 4 years on

          Thing is... This was shit they did 10 years ago. That competition is dead and buried, as a result of which Google grew its revenue by x% per year more than it would otherwise have done with fair competition. Compounding that x% over 10 years, it would need to be quite a large %age fine (surely more than the 4% IIRC from GDPR) before Google even makes a financial loss. And their competitors are still gone.

          So big yes to %age of revenue fines, but not enough on their own. What's needed is (1) personal criminal or civil liability for the decision makers involved in the C-suite. (2) forcible breakup of the business units into separate sold-off companies that don't automatically share data with each other.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Coffee money 4 years on

            "Compounding that x% over 10 years"

            Why would you do that? Might as well just say 'multiplying by a random factor I made up'.

            "What's needed is (1) personal criminal or civil liability for the decision makers involved in the C-suite. "

            That exists. It just isn't relevant here because no-one did those sorts of things.

            "forcible breakup of the business units into separate sold-off companies that don't automatically share data with each other."

            So... Closing Google down?

            Why do you loons think anyone supports your insane plans? We may want to put reins on Google, but we have no desire whatsoever to shut it down.

            1. jmch Silver badge

              Re: Coffee money 4 years on

              "That exists. It just isn't relevant here because no-one did those sorts of things."

              Personal liability exists but is rarely enforced, and almost never against C-Level suits. Example - if company x is publicly saying it's ads reach 1 billion users, even though they know a bunch of them are bots/inactive/etc, and really their reach is 500mil, that's just bluster. If it's saying the same in an investor earnings call, that's fraud.

              So, I can't say without access to any of Google's internal emails whether fraud applies in this case, but I'm curious to know what would happen if a prosecutor got access to them.

              "So... Closing Google down?"

              No, breaking a company apart is not the same as closing it down. And breaking up a monopolist in a way to break their monopoly while allowing the individual companies to go on existing is a well-understood antitrust practice

              1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

                Re: Coffee money 4 years on

                "Personal liability exists but is rarely enforced, and almost never against C-Level suits."

                Yes, because people usually don't commit crimes.

                "Example - if company x is publicly saying it's ads reach 1 billion users, even though they know a bunch of them are bots/inactive/etc, and really their reach is 500mil, that's just bluster. If it's saying the same in an investor earnings call, that's fraud."

                That's an example of people usually not committing crimes, not of a failure to enforce laws or regulations.

                "So, I can't say without access to any of Google's internal emails whether fraud applies in this case"

                Well, you could. You could admit there is no reason to bring fraud into this. But you prefer to indulge your fantasies about conspiracies everywhere.

                "I'm curious to know what would happen if a prosecutor got access to them."

                That's what just happened. Again, you're imagining some stuff to shore up a warped conspiracy theory.

                "breaking a company apart is not the same as closing it down"

                Yes, it is. That's the whole point.

                "breaking up a monopolist in a way to break their monopoly while allowing the individual companies to go on existing is a well-understood antitrust practice"

                Yes, closing the company down and giving the business to other entities. It applies to breaking up similar businesses, a la Ma Bell. Not to diverse conglomerates doing lots of different stuff.

                What you're talking about is shutting down Google, getting rid of Gmail, Google search services, and so on. Not splitting them into different ownership, just closing them down.

                Obviously you have to go for dishonesty rather than admit that, because if you admitted what you're actually after, you'd be a laughing stock.

      2. marcellothearcane

        Re: Coffee money 4 years on

        That just kicks the can down the road. Whoever runs the next venture would be just as bad if not worse, and if it's the government they won't fine themselves next time.

        Absolute power corrupts absolutely...

      3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Coffee money 4 years on

        "I think the only way to ensure effectiveness would be to order company to completely stop any commercial activity in the country."

        Well, yes. And the first country that tries that will have its government toppled by an enraged mob, when Google, Amazon, Facebook etc shut down services in that country.

        Of course, residents of said country will still be able to access Google etc via proxies and so-on, so the only real way to achieve what you're talking about is to criminalise the use of the service in question. I can see that going down really well...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Goo: "[ads help] people find the products they are looking for quickly and easily ..."

    I'm not so sure about that.

    It seems to me that ads for not-especially-interesting products often get in the way of the search results that I were the main things I was hoping to see.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Goo: "[ads help] people find the products they are looking for quickly and easily ..."

      Exactly!

      Whatever passes for search algorithms as far as ad delivery is concerned are as broad as possible in scope so that any ad that is even remotely related to a query can be fired off. It is about maximising the potential for revenue not getting the right ad in front of a searcher.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        One thing is guaranteed though : as soon as you buy something, you will see ads for that thing.

        This is the most useless algorythm I have ever witnessed in action.

        1. Brad16800

          Yea had the same. Seems a bit silly to advertise something to you when you already searched and bought it.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            100%. Amazon is the absolute worst here; buy a kettle from them, be inundated with ads for kettles for the next 12 months.

            1. willyslick

              It just means that while these search companies can track what you are searching for, seeing when (and where) you actually purchase that item is so far not part of the algorithm. Give em time - you can be sure they are working on that.....

              Actually if you are against this kind of search tracking, then seeing ads for items you will never buy (again) should give you a good feeling that the company's resources are going to waste.

              Thinking about this kind of tracking and profiling of users, one could come to the conclusion that the best response to try to stymy the algorithms is to generate the maximum amount of nonsense data to throw off the profile and fill the data centers with inaccurate data - get enough people behind nonsense information generating and these systems would soon be brought to their knees....

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Why is anyone seeing ads?!?

              Use uBlock Origin.

  4. steviebuk Silver badge

    More balls

    Than the UK court then that just threw out the case with Apple users data with Google. Judge has appeared to have sided with Google. I couldn't possibly comment directly about what happened as I don't know the fact. But I do wonder if some brown envelopes were involved.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: More balls

      From what I read, the judge has disallowed the group action based on how that works in the UK because they can't show evidence of actual damage. But he did say that he thought individuals would be likely to be able to go ahead. I guess the bar must by higher for group actions.

      1. RuffianXion

        Re: More balls

        Yes, individuals who can't afford the legal costs are free to go ahead with legal action. Very helpful.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: More balls

          "Yes, individuals who can't afford the legal costs are free to go ahead with legal action."

          There are no significant legal costs involved, and any costs can be claimed back - not that Google would fight, having already had a ruling against them. The reason no individual would bother is that the compensation would be pretty near zero.

          Reality is, this was a money-grab attempt by litigation funders. If they'd won, they'd have kept a billion or more, and the plaintiffs would have got a few quid each.

      2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: More balls

        "From what I read, the judge has disallowed the group action based on how that works in the UK because they can't show evidence of actual damage. But he did say that he thought individuals would be likely to be able to go ahead. I guess the bar must by higher for group actions."

        UK law doesn't allow for class action lawsuits in the American sense, where one party sues (or is sued) on behalf of a larger group, who are then bound by the outcome unless they opt out. The closest the UK comes is a Group Litigation Order, which is more of a lawsuit management tool to streamline the administrative process around multiple plaintiffs. In essence: each plaintiff generally needs to fight their own case, however certain contributory factors e.g. evidence, precedent; can be ruled upon once, and the outcome of that ruling applied to each case thereby streamlining the n+1 cases.

      3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: More balls

        Nah - its just that lawyers have to put in a tad more work if they represent single individuals rather than a great big amorphous group, and their pockets don't get as filled either.

      4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: More balls

        "the judge has disallowed the group action based on how that works in the UK because they can't show evidence of actual damage"

        Nope. It was dismissed because every case is individual and requires damages to be assessed individually. So not suitable for a class action, let alone a group action.

        "I guess the bar must by higher for group actions."

        Not higher, but different. To roll several cases up into one, they all have to be claiming the same thing.

    2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: More balls

      "Judge has appeared to have sided with Google"

      More conspiratorial nonsense. The judge ruled based on the law; the case was a gamble by litigation funders.

      "I couldn't possibly comment directly about what happened as I don't know the fact. "

      You already did. Why not go read the judgement instead?

  5. katrinab Silver badge
    Meh

    If I’m looking to compare prices for insurance, or electricity, I don’t go to Google. I go straight to another site that I think will do a better job.

    Those other sites don’t provide links to other price comparison services.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      How do you find those sites?

      Ah yes - Google.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How do you find those sites?

        Nope, irritating TV adverts involving operatic meercats. Or something like that.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: How do you find those sites?

          Also Radio/TV progs (Martyn Lewis).

          Google is the last place to go for decent service cost information. If you know anything about SEO and paid for rankings then you would NEVER EVER trust Google for anything where money is concerned.

  6. Apprentice Human

    The pun deserves an elephant stamp...

    "Was going to buy a spider from a pet shop, then realised I could pick one up on the web. Here all week"

    The pain of this pun deserves an elephant stamp, and an elephant to stamp on the sub-editor that added it, or allowed it to go through!

    As Johnathan Harris emoted: "The pain, the pain".

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: The pun deserves an elephant stamp...

      Indeed, well played!

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    Bwhahahahaha

    Love it.

  8. Rich 2

    Groan….

    So, am investigation was kicked off in 2010 and a fine finally made to stick 11 years later?

    “Truly effective remedies remain an issue." - that’s an understatement of the highest order.

    I wonder how much additional money G managed to make on the back of their nefarious activities in those intervening 11 years? Maybe someone ought to quickly add this up and add it to the fine.

    The courts are completely ineffective when it comes to keeping the like off G in check.

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Groan….

      "I wonder how much additional money G managed to make on the back of their nefarious activities in those intervening 11 years? Maybe someone ought to quickly add this up and add it to the fine."

      Why the conspiratorial nonsense? That is exactly how the fine is calculated.

      "The courts are completely ineffective when it comes to keeping the like off G in check"

      Well, your imaginary version would be. But the real ones do exactly what you think they ought to.

  9. tiggity Silver badge

    Seems odd

    I craft a search about comparing prices for a particular (broadish - specific manufacturer but a name they apply to multiple products in the same "family") product

    If I go to Bing, then I get top result as a link to bing shop

    On Google its less overt, there's a shopping tab, that takes me to google shopping.

    Either way, its what I expect.

    If I choose to use a "free" search engine, then I expect that company will push its own products be they price comparison sites, maps / routes (if my search term is directions related, or address based) etc.

    Just like when I go to Lidl, I don't expect to see adverts for Tesco, Sainsburys etc. (though may well see posters showing how much I could save compared to them)

    Much as I hate the de facto monopoly Google & MS have between them on search (with Google the bigger by far) - I do think the non clueless user expects a search engine to preferentially push its own services, after all the search engine is not provided out of some beneficial philanthropy reason, its there to make money, be that in gaining data about people, ads, making some tiny percentage on a purchase if it is performed via their shop / affiliate links etc.

    .. though I don't use price comparison sites anyway, as they only tend to have data from the "big" retailers, not much use when I'm searching for a niche product where I'm far better served by specialist retailers (& often get the best deals from contacting people I have dealt with previously or ads in specialist magazines rather than the web as a lot of the people I deal with are "one man bands" or small companies and we presence tends to be perfunctory and usually not including their full catalogue)

    .. No, not a one handed typing niche / specialist interest in case anyone's wondering (old out of print books & old records mainly)

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