The EU says it ‘largely confirms’ the 2018 ruling

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The EU has upheld a 2018 antitrust charge against Google, confirming that the company imposed “unlawful restrictions” on Android phone manufacturers in order to promote its search engine on mobile devices.

Google has been attempting to appeal the charge, which was announced in 2018. It included a record-breaking €4.3 billion fine, which the EU’s General Court this morning reduced to €4.1 billion after announcing that it “largely confirms” the ruling. This confirmation is a serious blow for Google and strengthens the position of the EU’s antitrust advocates, who, led by Margrethe Vestager, have targeted the abuses of Big Tech.

Google forced phonemakers to pre-install its apps alongside the Play Store

The original 2018 charge against Google found that the company abused its market dominance by forcing Android phonemakers to restrict how they sold their devices. Manufacturers had to agree not to sell phones using variant versions of Android (“forks”) not approved by Google, and to pre-install Google’s Search and Chrome apps alongside the company’s app store, the Play Store. Google also paid phonemakers and mobile operators to exclusively install Google search on devices as part of a revenue-sharing scheme.

According to the Commission’s analysis, Google saw the rise of smartphone as an existential threat to its (then-desktop-based) search business. So, the tech giant strong-armed phone makers into making its search engine front-and-center on their devices.

Google’s legal response focused on a number of arguments, including that the Commission incorrectly judged the company to be dominant in the mobile market (because iOS exists), and that its actions were necessary to stop the Android ecosystem fragmenting into many incompatible operating systems. (To which the Commission replies: incompatible or not, fostering rival mobile OSes is exactly the desired outcome of a competitive market.)

The ruling by the General Court today upheld the vast majority of the Commission’s original charges. However, the Court did find that Google’s revenue-sharing schemes with manufacturers did not constitute an abuse of Google’s market power, and so reduced the fine accordingly by roughly five percent to €4.1 billion.

Today’s decision comes from the EU’s second-highest court, the General Court, meaning that Google can appeal this decision yet again with the bloc’s highest court, the Court of Justice. Google now has to wait two months and ten days before it can appeal once more.

In a statement from a spokesperson, Google said: “We are disappointed that the Court did not annul the decision in full. Android has created more choice for everyone, not less, and supports thousands of successful businesses in Europe and around the world.”

Update Wednesday 14th September, 5:22AM ET: Added Google statement.

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