Friday, 01 October 2021 10:17

Google pleads 'nice-guy defence' in bid to reduce EU fine Featured

Google pleads 'nice-guy defence' in bid to reduce EU fine Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Google is pleading what could be characterised as the "nice-guy defence" in its bid to reduce a €4.34 billion (US$5.02 billion, A$6.94 billion) fine imposed on it by the European Union in 2018 for allegedly breaching anti-trust rules relevant to Android, by saying it never intended to harm its rivals.

Bloomberg quoted the search giant's lawyer Genevra Forwood as telling the European Union's General Court in Luxembourg on Thursday that the company "could not have known its conduct was an abuse" when it cut deals for the use of Android.

At the time the fine was imposed, the EU said the company would have to end its alleged breach of antitrust rules within 90 days or pay a penalty of up to 5% of the average daily turnover of its parent company, Alphabet.

Google has now racked up more €8.2 billion in fines from the EU, with a €2.4 billion fine being levied in 2017 for allegedly abusing its search engine dominance to give illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. The company has appealed the decision.

It also faces a third fine of €1.49 billion for alleged abusive practices in online advertising.

Forwood gave the court another option: reduce the record fine because it was calculated based on ad revenue from Google's home page, a website that not directly linked to Android phones.

google android

But the European Commission's lawyer Anthony Dawes was scornful of this approach, saying the fine was just 4.5% of Google's revenue in 2017 and much lower than a 10% cap.

Forwood's argument was similar to that of a driver who kills a pedestrian and then claims in court that there should be no penalty because he/she did not intend to kill anyone.

She said Google had no anti-competitive intent and it could not have known its conduct was an abuse, as there was no judicial precedent.

"So it was wrong for the Commission to impose any fine at all, let alone turn up the dials to reach its biggest fine ever," Forwood said.

In a detailed statement at the time the fine was imposed, the EC, the executive arm of the EU, said Google:

  • had required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • had prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called "Android forks").

The hearings began on Monday and the court is expected to issue a decision next year. Google has been contacted for comment.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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