Google launches a battle to annul EU $5.1 billion fine, criticizes regulators for ignoring Apple

Google, on Monday, launched a move to get Europe’s second-highest court to annul a fine of $5.1 billion (4.34 billion euros) imposed by European regulators.

In 2018, the European Commission fined Google on claims that it had used its Android operating system since 2011 to rein rivals in and solidify its dominance in a general internet search.

Refuting this allegation, representatives of Google told a panel of five judges at the General Court in Luxembourg that Android was far from holding back rivals and harming users, and that, on the contrary, it has been “an exceptional success story of the power of competition in action”.

Matthew Pickford, a lawyer representing Google, told the court that the European Commission had “shut its eyes to the real competitive dynamic in this industry, that between Apple and Android”.

“By defining markets too narrowly and downplaying the potent constraint imposed by the highly powerful Apple, the Commission has mistakenly found Google to be dominant in mobile operating systems and app stores when it was in fact a vigorous market disruptor,” he said.

The role of Apple was dismissed by European Commission lawyer, Nicholas Khan, on claims that the company controlled a small market share compared with Android. “Bringing Apple into the picture doesn’t change things very much. Google and Apple pursue different models,” he told the court. Citing agreements that forced phone manufacturers to pre-install Google Search, the Chrome browser and the Google Play app store on their Android devices, Nicholas Khan added that “Google’s conduct denied any opportunity for competition”.

The case, titled “T-604/18, Google vs European Commission”, is the most important of the European Union’s three cases against Google because of Android’s market dominance. In the last decade, Google has racked up more than 8 billion euros in EU antitrust fines.

Lobbying group FairSearch, whose complaint triggered the Commission case, criticized Google’s tactics with phone makers. “Google adopted a classic bait and switch strategy. It hooked (them) on a supposedly free and open-source operating system subsidised by its search monopoly, only to shut that system to competition through the web of restrictions at issue in this case,” its lawyer Thomas Vinje told the court.

Showing support for Google, German phone maker Gigaset Communications said that its financial profitability was due to Android’s open platform, and bewailed the negative impact of the Commission’s decision on its business. “The licence fee for the Play Store that Google now charges as a result of the contested decision represents a significant portion of the price of Gigaset’s smartphones aimed at price-sensitive consumers,” its lawyer Jean-François Bellis told the court.

The case is ongoing and a verdict may come next year.

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