On 27 June 2017, the European Commission fined Google €2.42 billion for abusing its dominant position in general internet search in the European Economic Area (EEA). The abusive conduct identified by the Commission was the giving of an advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service Google Shopping.
Google was found to be dominant in general internet search markets throughout the EEA, i.e., in all 31 EEA countries (the 28 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). This was based on the fact that Google's search engine has held very high market shares in all EEA countries, exceeding 90 percent in most, and has done so consistently since at least 2008. There are also high barriers to entry in these markets, in part because of network effects.
Market dominance itself is not illegal under EU competition law. However, a dominant company has a special responsibility not to abuse its powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where it is dominant or in separate markets.
The Commission found that Google abused its position by giving prominent placement in its search results only to its own comparison shopping service, whilst demoting rival services. It therefore stifled competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets (which are separate to general internet search).
This is the first of potentially several more decisions concerning Google’s practices in the EU/EEA. The Commission has already come to the preliminary conclusion that Google has abused a dominant position in two other cases, which are still being investigated. One concerns the Android operating system and the other concerns Google product AdSense. The Commission also continues to examine Google's treatment in its search results of other specialised Google search services.
Not many companies have the market reach or position of Google. Nevertheless, the June 2017 decision and the other cases are of relevance to any company which competes with a Google product (such as other specialised search services) or relies on Google to reach its own customers. Competition law can be used to protect a company from the actions of dominant rivals or providers, and the law can be enforced either directly in court or via a complaint to a competition law regulator in the EU.