Google fights US$5 billion antitrust fine, claiming its actions actually helped competition

The fine was over requiring phone makers to pre-install Google Search and Chrome browser apps.
The fine was over requiring phone makers to pre-install Google Search and Chrome browser apps. Photo credit: Getty Images

Google says deals with Android phone makers that landed it a record US$5 billion antitrust fine actually boosted competition. It has rejected EU charges they were a carrot-and-stick tactic that stifled rivals.

Google was addressing the second day of a week-long hearing as it tries to get Europe's second-highest court to annul the fine and a European Commission order to make it loosen its search engine grip on Android devices.

Lawyers for Google and the EU competition executive clashed over the company's Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADAs) that require phone makers (OEMs) to pre-install the Google Search app and Chrome browser app in return for licensing Google Play for free.

"This licensing model is what attracted OEMs to the Android platform, and what enabled those OEMs to offer a consistent and high-quality user experience at the lowest possible price," Google's lawyer Alfonso Lamadrid told the General Court.

"People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to," he said.

Commission lawyer Carlos Urraca Caviedes rejected the argument, calling the deals and other restrictions Google's carrot-and-stick policy towards phone makers.

"These helped Google ensure its competitors would not achieve critical mass to challenge its dominance," he told the court.

He also said such deals were unnecessary in view of the market power of Google, the world's most popular internet search engine, and its significant number of users.

Urraca Caviedes said what Google did "goes beyond what is necessary to develop and maintain the Android platform".

A verdict may come next year.

Meanwhile the internet giant's plan to block "cookies", a popular web tracking tool, is anti-competitive, a group of advertisers, publishers and tech companies said in a complaint to EU antitrust regulators.

ance could boost the European Commission's investigation opened in June into Google's Privacy Sandbox which the company said could allow businesses to target clusters of consumers without identifying individuals.

Google said a year ago that it would ban some cookies in its Chrome browser to increase user privacy and offer the Privacy Sandbox as an alternative.

The Movement for an Open Web (MOW) said the proposal would give Google the power to decide what data can be shared on the web and with whom.

"Google says they're strengthening 'privacy' for end users but they're not, what they're really proposing is a creepy data mining party," MOW lawyer Tim Cowen said in a statement.

The Commission confirmed receipt of the complaint, saying it would assess it under the standard procedures. In June, it kicked off an investigation into Google's online display advertising technology services.

Google has offered to settle the case in a bid to avoid a possible fine and a disruptive prolonged probe, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.

Google declined to comment on the MOW complaint and referred to its previous statement released when it offered concessions to the UK competition watchdog, which described the Privacy Sandbox as an open initiative to provide strong privacy for users while also supporting publishers.