In a major ruling that bolsters the European Union’s efforts to clamp down on the world’s largest technology companies, Google lost an appeal on Wednesday to overturn a landmark antitrust ruling by European regulators against the internet giant.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court related to a 2017 decision by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to fine Google 2.4 billion euros (about $2.8 billion) for giving preferential treatment to its own price-comparison shopping service over rival services.
The penalty was the first of three issued by Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s top antitrust enforcer, against Google. And with the other cases also being appealed — and additional European investigations underway against Amazon, Apple and Facebook — the case has been closely watched as a signal of the court’s view of the European Commission’s aggressive use of antitrust law against the American tech giants.
Google can appeal the decision to the European Union’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.
Amid increasing support for regulating large tech platforms in the United States and European Union, courts will play a central role in determining just how far governments will be able to go when intervening in the digital economy. In the United States, Google is facing a Justice Department lawsuit for anticompetitive behavior and Facebook is facing another from the Federal Trade Commission.
In Europe, the courts have sometimes ruled against regulators. Last year, the General Court ruled against an order to require Apple to pay 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes. Amazon also successfully appealed another order to repay taxes.
In the 2017 case against Google, regulators said the internet giant used its dominance as a search engine to unfairly help its own internet shopping service over those of smaller rivals.
The €2.4 billion fine was a record at the time, before being surpassed in 2018, when the commission fined Google €4.34 billion for illegally using the Android operating system to bolster the usage of its search engine and other services on mobile devices.
In 2019, Ms. Vestager’s office fined Google €1.49 billion for imposing unfair terms on companies that used its search bar on their websites in Europe.
The investigations of Google helped inspire stiffer new competition rules that are being drafted in the European Union that target the world’s largest technology platforms. The draft law — the Digital Markets Act — is expected to be adopted next year and would give European regulators new powers to intervene in the digital economy, including blocking companies like Google and Apple from giving their services preferential treatment over rivals.
Violating the new rules would result in fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue.