European authorities fined Google a record $5.1 billion on Wednesday for abusing its power in the mobile phone market and ordered the company to alter its practices, in one of the most aggressive regulatory actions against American technology giants and one that may force lasting changes to smartphones.
The European Union’s antitrust fine of 4.34 billion euros was almost double the bloc’s fine against Google last year over the company’s unfair favoring of its own services in internet search results. The penalty’s size highlighted Europe’s increasingly bold stance against the power of American tech firms, even as officials in the United States have taken a largely hands-off approach to the companies.
The fine was coupled with remedies that would effectively loosen Google’s grip over its Android software, which is used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones and is a key part of the Silicon Valley company’s business. Those changes, which European regulators ordered to take effect in 90 days, undercut Google’s ability to automatically include its own search and other apps in mobile devices, opening it to more competition in a market that it has dominated.
“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere.”
This needed to happen, badly. Big props to Margrethe Vestager, who just proved she’s serious about enforcing antitrust laws, unlike authorities in the United States, who have continually done nothing as Google (and Facebook and Amazon) have become bigger and amassed ever more power.
Google utterly dominates both mobile computing as well as search & advertising online (with the exception of Facebook’s walled garden). Yet Google has not been subjected to rigorous antitrust scrutiny by U.S. agencies. The most that ever happens is that Google gets slapped on the wrist for a privacy bugaboo or snafu of some sort. The company’s aggressive growth has not been checked or challenged at all.