Google loses appeal over illegal Android app bundling, EU reduces fine to €4.1 billion

Google loses appeal over illegal Android app bundling, EU reduces fine to €4.1 billion

The EU has upheld a 2018 antitrust charge against Google, confirming that the company imposed “unlawful restrictions” on Android phone manufacturers in order to promote its search engine on mobile devices.

Google has been attempting to appeal the charges, which were levied in 2018. They include a record-breaking €4.3 billion fine, which the EU’s General Court this morning reduced to €4.1 billion, after announcing that it “largely confirms” the original ruling.

The European Commission ruled in 2018 that Google abused its market dominance by forcing Android phonemakers to agree to certain restrictions on how they packaged and sold their devices. Phonemakers who wanted to sell Android phones had to agree not to sell devices that used variants versions of Android (“forks”) not approved by Google and to pre-install Google’s Search and Chrome apps if they wanted to also offer the company’s app store, the Play Store. Google also paid phonemakers and mobile operators to exclusively install Google search on devices.

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According to the Commission’s analysis, Google saw the rise of smartphone as an existential threat to its (then-desktop-based) search business. So, the tech giant strong-armed phone makers into making its search engine front-and-center on their devices.

Google’s legal response focused on a number of arguments, including that the Commission incorrectly judged the company to be dominant in the mobile market (because iOS exists), and that its actions were necessary to stop the Android ecosystem fragmenting into many incompatible operating systems. (To which the Commission replies: incompatible or not, fostering rival mobile OSes is exactly the desired outcome of a competitive market.).

Today’s decision comes from the EU’s second-highest court, the General Court, meaning that Google can appeal this decision yet again with the bloc’s highest court, the Court of Justice.

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