February 11, 2020 / 11:06 PM / 10 days ago

Google takes on EU in court over record antitrust fines

* Landmark case likely to set EU tone for U.S. tech groups

* Court case follows Google's decade long EU battle

* EU antitrust chief mulls rules to rein in tech companies

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Google will on Wednesday seek to overturn the first of three hefty European Union antitrust fines at Europe's second-highest court in a landmark case that could determine how EU enforcers take on U.S. tech giants for abuse of market power.

The company will lay out its arguments against a 2.4-billion-euro ($2.6 billion) fine handed out by the European Commission during a three-day hearing at the General Court.

EU regulators said this penalty was for Google's favouring its own price comparison shopping service to the disadvantage of smaller European rivals.

The EU has fined Google a total of 8.25 billion euros in three separate cases, including one involving its Android smartphone operating system. This is four times more than its rival Microsoft's EU fines of 2.2 billion euros. Both companies' regulatory troubles in Europe have lasted a decade.

Google is expected to launch a three-pronged attack against the Commission's 2017 decision which also included an order to treat competitors equally.

"It is wrong on the law, the facts, and the economics. Shopping ads have always helped people find the products they are looking for quickly and easily, and helped merchants to reach potential customers," Google said in a statement.

The key issue is whether self preferencing is anti-competitive and whether Amazon and eBay should be counted as Google's rivals.

For rivals, the case centres on Google's role as a central online gatekeeper.

"Google's search service acts as a de-facto kingmaker. If you are not found, the rest cannot follow. No company should be allows to abuse such position to promote its own services at the detriment of competitors and consumers alike," said lawyer Thomas Hoppner who advises clients who are critical of Google.

"The judgement will have repercussions for a large variety of industries that depend on fair ranking of their services on Google Search," he said.

The court ruling is likely to come next year.

In the meantime, Margrethe Vestager in her new beefed-up role as Europe's digital chief will not be idle. She is set to announce several proposals in the coming months to rein in dominant U.S. online groups amid push back by the United States and the companies.

$1 = 0.9164 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Jane Merriman

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