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Google Hit With $2.7 Billion Fine By European Antitrust Monitor

EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, pictured last summer, announced a fine against Google over the way it ranks shopping services in its search results.

The European Commission has fined Google 2.42 billion euros ($2.72 billion) after finding that the company used its dominant search engine to drive people toward another Google product, its shopping service.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules," said European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. "It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

The amount of the fine, the European Commission said, is due to "the duration and gravity" of Google's actions. It gave the company 90 days to change its practices and display rivals' services in the same way it displays its own.

Google said it will review the fine and is considering an appeal. The company also defended the way it handles online shopping, saying that it connects users with advertisers "in ways that are useful for both."

"We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today," said Google general counsel Kent Walker.

The fine centers around Google's comparison shopping service — which has been known by names from Froogle and Google Product Search to Google Shopping — and its prominent display in related search results.

Vestager said Google "abused its market dominance ... by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors."

That behavior, Vestager said, went too far. While acknowledging that Google's strategy included a plan to make its shopping product better than anyone else's, she said that the way the company treated its rivals and "systematically" ranked its own service at or near the top of the rankings went beyond the normal scope of competition.

Google adopted the same practice in all 13 EU countries where it unveiled its shopping service, the European Commission says, starting with Germany and the United Kingdom in 2008 and, most recently, with Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Sweden in late 2013.

As for the effects of Google's strategy, the commission says that traffic to Google's comparison shopping service rose "45-fold in the United Kingdom, 35-fold in Germany, 19-fold in France, 29-fold in the Netherlands, 17-fold in Spain and 14-fold in Italy."

The commission says that Google's rivals saw their traffic plummet — by 85 percent in the United Kingdom, 92 percent in Germany and 80 percent in France.

"These sudden drops could also not be explained by other factors," the European body adds.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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