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India imposes $21.1M fine on Google for antitrust practices

The search giant practiced an "undue intervention" in its search design that prioritises its own services, said the Competition Commission of India.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

India's antitrust watchdog has imposed a $21.1 million fine on Google, saying it abused its dominant position.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google is in trouble again, this time in India as the country's antitrust watchdog accused the company of abusing its market dominance.

The search giant faces a fine of nearly 1.36 billion rupees (over $21.1 million) after the Competition Commission of India found it guilty of "search bias" in terms of online web search, which "causes harm" to its competitors and users, according to a statement published Thursday.

"...Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services," the CCI said in its statement.

The blow is the latest amid a string of regulatory problems the company has been dealt with, including a record $2.7 billion penalty the European Commission imposed on it last June for prioritising its own shopping services in its search results over competitors'. Last September the company announced that it's appealing against the EU, although Reuters reported that any ruling on the appeal could take years. Google's business practices are also being investigated for antitrust behaviours in Missouri, it was reported last November.

In India, the CCI highlighted an example that it felt demonstrated Google's anti-competitive behaviours. It pointed out that an "undue intervention" in Google's search design placed the company's commercial flight search function prominently on the search results page, and that this "disproportionate real estate" allocated to its own services put rivals trying to gain market access at a disadvantage.

"The competitors were denied access to the online search syndication services market due to such a conduct," the CCI said, although it did not find any contravention in terms of Google's specialised search design, AdWords and online intermediation and distribution agreements.

Google is working to address the issue. "The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws," a company spokesperson said. "We are reviewing the narrow concerns identified by the Commission and will assess our next steps."    

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First published Feb. 9, 2:46 a.m. PT. 
Update, Feb. 12 at 8:22 a.m.: Adds comment from Google spokesperson.

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