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Google leaves court bruised, not broken

LUXEMBOURG — It has been a good three days in court for the ..

LUXEMBOURG — It has been a good three days in court for the EUs competition chief Margrethe Vestager.

Google had appealed one of her biggest calls — the 2017 decision to fine the company €2.42 billion for unduly favoring its own shopping comparison service.

At no point during the three-day hearing at the EU General Court in Luxembourg was the Commissions position fundamentally threatened — unlike Googles.

If the case goes Vestagers way, it will strengthen her hand to take a tougher approach not only toward Googles other specialized search services, including flights and restaurants, but also on similar ventures by other tech giants, such as Facebooks Marketplace or Apple Music. It would also pave the way for damages cases as Googles crushed rivals will seek compensation.

Conversely, the EU has a big problem if the judges in Luxembourg, who serve as the only check on the unrivaled powers of the EUs antitrust czar, decide that she had been too bold. A victory for Google would be a major setback for Vestagers Brussels reign, potentially driving her to make more use of her new powers to initiate legislation, rather than focus on antitrust cases.

One judge suggested that the court should actually increase the €2.42 billion fine | Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

The most striking moment of the hearing was when Irish judge Colm Mac Eochaidh on Thursday said he saw the companys favoritism of its own shopping service as a clear infraction, and insisted that in terms of the board game Monopoly, the internet giant had landed on “Go to jail.”

The same judge colored Fridays proceedings with an unexpected suggestion that the court might actually increase the €2.42 billion fine — not what the search giants lawyers had in mind.

But that is no guarantee of victory for the Commission when the five-judge panel delivers its ruling in the coming months. Fridays exchange showed the judges are not all on the same page. Decisions of the EU General Court are taken by majority, with the presiding judge holding the casting vote.

Whatever the outcome, the parties can still appeal the judgment with the higher European Court of Justice.

The Commission is terrified that the case is requalified as such a “duty to supply” case, as Google is arguing should happen

Overall, Googles lawyers struggled to convince the court that the way it cultivated its shopping service was to the benefit of consumers and that the updates of its algorithms were primarily aimed at offering them more relevant results.

An intervention from European consumer organization BEUC on the side of the Commission did not help to maintain that claim.

“Googles conduct places rivals out of the sight of consumers under the pretext of making things better for consumers when in reality it is done for Googles own benefit,” BEUCs lawyer Alessandra Fratini said.

But that does not necessarily mean Google infringed EU competition law.

One of the crucial legal questions is whether the company had a duty to provide its rivals access to its results pages. As EU law stands, that is only possible under very strict conditions, which are widely considered not to apply in this case.

The Commission is terrified that the case is requalified as such a “Read More – Source

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