September 14, 2022
Over four years after Google was fined €4.3 billion for abusing the dominant position of Android, a European court has dismissed most of its appeals.
We don’t know how long Google took to lodge its appeal but four years still seems like a long time. Still, if that’s the price of legal due process then so be it. The responsibility for judging the appeal fell to the European General Court, which is part of the EU Court of Justice. It was charged with assessing the legal merits of the European Commission as appealed against by the US tech giant.
To recap the original decision, the European Commission essentially decided Google had abused its position as the owner of the dominant smartphone platform – Android – to coerce smartphone makers into installing its search and browser software, while excluding competitive offerings. Given that around 80% of smartphones in a given country run on Android, any conditions Google attaches to its use surely have to raise competitive concerns.
The long release detailing the General Court’s deliberations and conclusions identified three types of restriction attributed to Google and Android:
Distribution agreements requiring manufacturers of mobile devices to pre-install Google Search and Chrome apps in order to be able to obtain a licence from Google to use its app store
Anti-fragmentation agreements under which the operating licences necessary for the pre-installation of the Google Search and Play Store apps could be obtained by mobile device manufacturers only if they undertook not to sell devices running versions of the Android operating system not approved by Google
Revenue share agreements’ which the grant of a share of Google’s advertising revenue to the manufacturers of mobile devices and the mobile network operators concerned, subject to their undertaking not to pre-install a competing general search service on a predefined portfolio of devices
To cut a long story short, the Court only found problems with some parts of the EC judgment on the third point, and those largely concerned technical parameters such as geographical scope and the calculation of the competitive environment. Those findings led the court to shave one or two hundred million off the fine, which will presumably serve as little consolation to Google.
The internet giant doesn’t seem to have offered much of a public response other then the standard claims of being a generally benign force in the world. Google has been given leave to appeal on points of law only, an opportunity it seems safe to assume will be taken, but which hopefully won’t take another four years to play out. It does seem inevitable that Google will eventually have to hand over billions of Euros, so maybe some of that could be used to settle the ‘fair competition’ debate.
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