Google loses key appeal against €2.4 billion EU shopping antitrust case

The General Court of the EU, which is the second-highest court, upheld a 2017 EU Commission ruling that found Google had violated antitrust law by using its search engine to promote shopping comparison services and degrade those of its competitors.
Google and Alphabet, its parent company, appealed against the decision. However, the General Court today said it had rejected the appeal and upheld a €2.4 billion ($2.8 million) fine. Google and Alphabet can now appeal to the highest court in the EU, the European Court of Justice.

This is a significant outcome as it reinforces the antitrust arguments of Margrethe Vestager, EU's influential competition commissioner, against US tech companies. Google was also hit in two antitrust cases that involved AdSense and Android in 2018, and 2019. These cases are currently going through the same appeal process as the case Google lost with Google Shopping.

Vestgater's legal argument in this case and in other antitrust cases centers around the concept of "self-preferencing". This is where a company such as Google can use a dominant market position (in Google's instance, search) in order to succeed in another market (e.g. Shopping Although self-preferencing does not constitute a violation of EU antitrust law in and of its own, the potential negative effects of this dynamic, such as stifling superior products from competitors, are.

The EU's General Court stated that it had enough evidence to conclude that Google's conduct in this area was detrimental. According to the court, the company had violated antitrust law by favoring its own comparison shopping services on its general result pages through better display and positioning, while relegating results from competitors in those pages using ranking algorithms.

This judgment will be strengthened by other EU antitrust arguments, as self-preferencing is common within the tech industry. Companies often scale up by focusing on one product before branching out to the next.

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