Google and the EU battled in court Wednesday as the search engine giant tried to persuade judges that it was unfairly accused of ill-treating rivals of its Shopping service.
The Silicon Valley juggernaut is appealing a 2.4 billion euro ($2.6 billion) fine from 2017 that was the first in a series of major penalties imposed by the European Commission, the EU‘s powerful anti-trust regulator.
The court case launches a new phase in the decade-long duel and is a major test of the combative tactics taken by the EU commission against big tech.
The next months will see Google appeal all three decisions that saw Brussels slap a total $9 billion in EU fines, with the giant’s Android mobile operating system and ad service also caught out for illegal behaviour.
The tech giant has paid the fines and changed its behaviour, but the company on Wednesday strongly condemned the EU’s verdict on shopping in the EU’s General Court as ill-founded and unfair.
“If Google would have faced the commission’s decision in 2008, Google would have had no other option but to abandon its innovative technologies and its improved designs,” Thomas Graf, a lawyer for Google told the EU’s General Court.
Supporting Google, a lawyer for the CCIA tech lobby in Brussels argued that the Commission’s demands “would ultimately harm consumers and internet users”.
The Commission’s lawyer, Nicholas Khan, deplored the power of the Mountain View, California giant. “Google’s status as the colossus of the digital age is unquestioned and until recently unquestionable.”
The commission was joined by other plaintiffs, who shot down Google for aggressive business practices.
“Google’s behaviour constitutes a serious abuse of dominance which must stop or it will destroy competition in all the markets in which it decides to enter,” said Thomas Höppner, a lawyer for three companies fighting the group.
The EU and Google have been locked in battle since 2010 when the commission first looked into accusations that the search engine was squeezing rivals from results in order to promote ads and Google Shopping, its price comparison service.
For several years Brussels and the US giant sought a negotiated settlement, but the EU abruptly reversed course in 2014 after the intervention of member states and the arrival of Margrethe Vestager who took over as EU competition chief.
Vestager, a former Danish finance minister, quickly became known for her relentless pursuit of US tech giants that drew attention worldwide.
Instead of negotiation, she repeatedly fined Google and slapped Apple with a 13 billion euro tax bill that boss Tim Cook dismissed as “political crap”.
The appeal hearing is to last three days with a decision possible by June. The case can then go to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.
The EU’s case mirrors similar litigation against Microsoft, a legal labyrinth that ran throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s and saw the Windows-maker fined about 1.4 billion euros.
Google was expected to plead that the commission had wrongly applied arguments used successfully against Microsoft and that the company has the right to give advantage to its own services.
The company would also underline that the EU case erroneously failed to account for the spectacular rise of Amazon and eBay in its assessment of Google Shopping.
Players in other sectors are following the case closely, and hoping that Vestager swoops in on other features such as maps, travel and job ads where Google has yet to face push back from regulators.
More than 30 travel firms — including TripAdvisor and Expedia — wrote to Vestager on Monday complaining that Google was unfairly trying to enter the vacation rental ad business.
The EU has already said it was looking into Google’s similar push into job ads.
WATCH: John Oliver exposes Trump’s lies about vote-by-mail — and the Fox News ‘cult’ claiming the election is already ‘rigged’
"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver's main story Sunday refuted President Donald Trump's latest crusade against vote-by-mail. Trump announced on Twitter that the more people who vote in an election, the more Republicans tend to lose. So, he wants fewer people to have access to the ballot in November, even if people are too scared to go out during the coronavirus crisis.
Oliver called out Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R-MO), who outright told people not to vote if they were too afraid to vote in the local elections next week.
"Well, hold on there," Oliver interjected. "Voting is a right. It has to be easy to understand and accessible to anyone."
John Oliver rips Fox News’ Tucker Carlson for urging ‘order’ from people of color — but never demanding it of police
John Oliver opened his Sunday show, shredding Fox News host Tucker Carlson for uring "order" among protesters, but refusing to urge "order" to police and "wannabe police" who can't stop killing people.
It's a lot, Oliver explained. "How these protests are a response to a legacy of police misconduct, both in Minneapolis and the nation at large and how that misconduct is, itself, built on a legacy of white supremacy that prioritizes the comfort of white Americans over the safety of people of color."
While some of it is complicated, Oliver conceded, most of it is "all too clear."
Cars set on fire blocks from White House as DC protests turn violent
The Washington, D.C. protests turned violent as the city approached the 11 p.m. curfew the mayor instituted Sunday afternoon.
The policy of D.C. police is that when they are attacked, they advance forward. So, when fireworks were fired, the line of officers began pushing the protesters back further from the White House. Behind the line of police officers also stand a line of National Guard troops that President Donald Trump has demanded stand watch in the city.
Lights that normally shine on the White House have also been turned off, reporters revealed.