EU hits Google with $5bn fine for breaking competition rules

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    Brussels has repeatedly targeted Google over the past decade [Michele Tantussi/Getty Images]

    The European Union slapped Google with a record $5bn fine for using its Android smartphone system to illegally boost its search engine – the biggest anti-trust penalty in EU history.

    Google immediately said it would appeal the massive fine.

    Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, announced the stiff penalty on Wednesday saying the US tech giant forced – and in some cases paid – major phone makers to pre-install its search engine and Google Chrome browser.

    The company also limited the ability of manufacturers to sell phones running alternative versions of Android.

    “Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” Vestager said in a statement. “This is illegal under EU anti-trust rules.”

    ‘More choice’

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    The company, however, said instead of restricting competition it did the opposite.

    “Android has created more choice for everyone, not less,” said Google spokesman Al Verney. “We will appeal the commission’s decision.”

    The commission also ordered Google to end the illegal conduct within 90 days or face additional penalties of up to 5 percent of parent Alphabet’s average daily worldwide turnover.

    Wednesday’s ruling came a year after the EU’s enforcer handed down a $2.7bn fine on Google for favouring its shopping service over rivals.

    Angering Washington

    Vestager has targeted a series of Silicon Valley giants in her four years as the 28-nation European Union’s competition commissioner, winning praise in Europe but angering the United States.

    On Wednesday, Vestager told a news conference in Brussels she “very much” likes the United States.

    “But the fact is that this has nothing to do with how I feel. Nothing whatsoever. Just as enforcing competition law, we do it in the world, but we do not do it in political context,” she said.

    Brussels has repeatedly targeted Google over the past decade amid concerns about the Silicon Valley giant’s dominance of internet searches across Europe, where it commands about 90 percent of the market.

    The EU ordered Apple in 2016 to pay Ireland 13bn euros in back taxes that the maker of iPhones and iPads avoided by a tax deal with Dublin.

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    It has also taken on Facebook over privacy issues after it admitted millions of users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

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