Google Faces $3.4B Fine for Search Bias

John Lister's picture

Google will reportedly face a fine of more than $3 billion for a series of alleged breaches of European competition laws. The penalty would be one-sixth of the maximum that could be imposed, but would still dwarf previous records.

The penalty would come from the European Commission. Among many other roles, the commission oversees competition rules which apply to firms doing business across 28 European countries.

For the record, this is a separate case launched last month, which the European Commission formally accused Google of using unfair rules in the way it pressures Android device manufacturers to pre-install and promote Google apps on handsets.

Search Rankings And Ad Rules Both Under Fire

Instead, this case involves an investigation going back to 2010 covering Google's search engine. The claims cover both the main results list and the sponsored (advertising) results that appear to the right and top of the page.

One claim is that the main results list, which is theoretically automatically generated according to Google's algorithm, are actually manipulated. Specifically, Google is said to have penalized rival companies which run specialist search tools such as price comparison sites and instead favored links to its own sites in this field. (Source:

It's also said that Google lowered the quality score it assigns to the rival sites. This lower score meant the rivals faced higher fees to appear in the sponsored results section. The claims also said Google unfairly insisted on exclusivity deals when accepting online advertising and made it hard for companies to take their business elsewhere later on.

In effect, the commission's view is that such behavior becomes unfairly anticompetitive when it's carried out by a firm such as Google that dominates the European markets for Internet searches and advertising.

Deal Or No Deal

The case has taken so long because commission officials and Google had been in negotiations for a settlement that would have meant Google paid a penalty and changed its behavior but didn't necessarily admit any wrongdoing. Those negotiations appear to have been killed off by a change in the senior competition official at the commission.

Now the Daily Telegraph newspaper says the commission plans to impose a fine of €3 billion, equivalent to US$3.4 billion. That's a little under half the maximum allowable penalty of 10 percent of Google's annual revenue. (Source:

As well as imposing the penalty, the commission may seek to force Google to change its algorithm so that it doesn't penalize sites simply because they offer competition to Google-owned businesses. Google will be particularly hostile to such a demand so its highly likely it will seek to appeal any punishment issued by the commission.

What's Your Opinion?

Should the alleged activity be against competition rules and if so, does Google deserve the reported punishment? Is $3.4 billion an appropriate fine and is it right to take into account the company's revenues when choosing a figure? Should the commission have the power to force Google to change its search algorithm?

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Dennis Faas's picture

$3.4 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket for Google. I'm sure they will make the loss back by promoting something else deemed "illegal", wait 5 years to get hit with that fine, then repeat. Seriously, though - that is a lot of money and it amazes me how the European Commission can impose such fines.

wysetech2000_6856's picture

I see you smiling, Dennis. Google sure did help you by burying your search results.

ecash's picture

I remember the Old Search wars..
And its funny...
Search engines work on the SAME idea, that the most linked/popular sites are displayed first.
WELLL..that got abit weird, as SOME companies and sites would BOMB the search engines to get Their sites to the TOP and leave behind OTHER sites..

Its Stupid to think that a Search engine is doing something Wrong, because certain sites are GENERALLY at the top.

The Problem is the FAKED/BAD sites that generally get to the top. HOW do you thin/Fix things so that CUSTOMERS can find what they want.
Sites that SPONSOR/PAY to be on the top, is nothing NEW...EVERY STORE does the same thing..Paying to have Products OUT where they can be seen/found..before someone goes Down the isle and can COMPARE products..

What would be nice would be a STORE REGISTER system that would verify and validate stores..

DavidInMississippi's picture


Did I read correctly that Google is being fined for promoting its own products ... ON ITS OWN WEBSITE?

And the WEIRDOS in power in the EU think its unfair that Google is so successful when their own whiny also-rans are not?

Here's my take: if these so-called rivals want to advertise their products, how about they just advertise them ON THEIR OWN WEBSITES!? That way, they can be as anti-competitive as they like.

My advice to Google: FIGHT! We all know Google keeps its algorithms a closely-guarded secret, and without knowing those algorithms, there is no way for anyone bringing charges to prove any of their speculations.

Just because they don't like the fact that a U.S. company is hyper-successful and their own company is not is no reason to try using the legal system to commit robbery.

I think this is yet one more example of indolent crybabies resenting the success of people who worked long, hard, and smart to get where they are, and the snivelers are throwing a litigation tantrum to try to steal what isn't theirs.

Sorry to be so soft-spoken and wishy-washy about this.

guyser01's picture

Well said, DavidInMississippi.

abdulhamidmalik34_5916's picture

For last some months if I search for a place the business of that place or in its name sheds the pages even I type " town/city; in Country/ " and originally no mention of the place comes

petershaw's picture

I find it difficult to accept the principle that a company is acting in an anti-competitive way when there is no need or requirement to use that company's products.

If I had no choice and had to use Google's products I might be concerned to ensure they act without bias. However I do have a choice and I have exercised it. I continue to use many of Google's offerings because I find them excellent and free.

If people are so gullible as to accept any form of advertising at face value then it's their hard luck. Advertising has always been biased in it's copy, location, frequency and depths to which it prepared to conceal the truth or even lie. The fact that a company or product has wormed it's way to the top of a search engine does not prevent me discovering alternatives, price options or truth about the product/company.

beach.boui's picture

Many of the responders take a very shallow view in their response to this issue. They seem unable to see past their own simplistic understanding of the issue. Google is in a position of great responsibility and their actions, good or bad, can have a large impact on many aspects of our modern lives, including commerce. It's not as simple as choosing a different search engine. First, people have to be aware that they are being manipulated unfairly. Then, they need to know their alternatives and how to exercise those alternatives. Not everyone does. If it wasn't for appropriate government oversight, Google, Microsoft and Amazon would literally rule the world.

This is the very problem with government today. The short-sighted morons who somehow make it to office can't see past the end of their own noses when it comes to policy. Long term gratification is a concept they don't understand. The fact that the world is changing is more than they can comprehend. Conservatives just don't get it.

petershaw's picture

Beach-Boui suggests: If it wasn't for appropriate government oversight, Google, Microsoft and Amazon would literally rule the world.

I suggest that this might not be a bad option. They could certainly bring efficiency and customer service to the forefront, dramatic growth and profitability, people based solutions at lower or zero cost and innovative creation based on demand. No government can boast this and in all honesty their elected representatives are far more manipulative than these companies. A quick look back at most election manifestos proves this.

Bring it on!