Google fined $1.7B for 'abusive' online ad practices in the EU

This is the third fine issued to Google by the European Commission in as many years, bringing the total to $9.3 billion.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
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Google has fallen foul of EU competition rules before.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Europe's Competition Commission slapped Google with a 1.49 billion euro ($1.69 billion) fine on Wednesday for abusive practices in online advertising.

The tech giant abused its market dominance by restricting its rivals from placing their search adverts on third-party websites, the European Commission said in a press release.

It's the third antitrust fine the EU's executive branch has handed down to Google in the past three years for breaking competition rules. It brings the company's total bill to 8.2 billion euros following almost a decade of investigations into its shopping practices, Android rules and advertising dominance.

"Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anticompetitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. "This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate -- and consumers the benefits of competition."

Ensuring European citizens can exercise the power of choice is a top priority for the Competition Commission. Google currently restricts choice by ensuring its own ads, served through AdSense, are featured on third-party websites exclusively, and therefore are the sole gateway to people's spending, according to the EU. Google secures these deals with the websites in contracts providing them with access to its search tools.


This is how Google abuses its dominance, according to the EU.

European Competition Commission

"We've always agreed that healthy, thriving markets are in everyone's interest," said Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president for global affairs, in a statement. "We've already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the Commission's concerns. Over the next few months, we'll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe."

Following a years-long investigation into Google's shopping services, the EU fined the company a record $2.7 billion in 2017. The record was then broken again the following year when Google was slapped with a fine of $5 billion for forcing Android phone makers to preinstall its own apps and services -- including the Google Play Store -- and restricting the prepackaging of alternatives.

In a blog post published late Tuesday, pre-empting the Commission's announcement, Walker detailed the changes Google has already made in response to the EU's decisions and concerns. In recent months, the company has tested a new format for comparison shopping sites and has now granted phone-makers the freedom to install any apps of their choosing alongside Google apps. It will now do more to increase awareness of different browsers among Android phone owners and ensure they have the opportunity to choose which browser they'd like to use.

"These latest changes demonstrate our continued commitment to operating in an open and principled way," said Walker.