An attendee lights up buttons on an interactive panel on the Google Inc. stand on the third day of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Google’s Seven Years of Antitrust Tribulation in Europe

(Bloomberg) -- Google was fined 2.42 billion euros ($2.7 billion) by the EU on Tuesday, wrapping up a seven-year probe into complaints that it abuses its power as the world’s biggest search engine to muscle out smaller shopping search rivals.

It’s one of three investigations targeting Alphabet Inc.’s Google in Europe with final results of a probe into the company’s Android mobile-phone software and online advertising service yet to come. Publishers are also seeking a probe into claims that Google unfairly uses their content, causing them to lose lucrative advertising revenue.

How did we get to this stage? Here’s a timeline of the cases since 2010:

  • February 2010: Joaquin Almunia, who just began his term as EU antitrust chief, tells Google he’s got complaints from U.K. shopping website Foundem, Microsoft Corp.’s Ciao unit and French search service eJustice.
  • Nov. 30, 2010: The European Commission announces an antitrust probe “into allegations that Google has abused a dominant position in online search.” The EU says it suspected Google of lowering the ranking of competitors in vertical search results such as price-comparison services. It’s also concerned about restrictions in advertising contracts.
  • Feb. 1, 2013: Almunia announces Google submitted a full offer to settle the antitrust probe.
  • March 21, 2013: Eleven companies, including Foundem, TripAdvisor Inc., Expedia Inc. and the German newspaper publishers’ association, ask Almunia in an open letter to send Google formal objections.
  • April 9, 2013: A group representing Microsoft, Expedia and Nokia Oyj files an antitrust complaint against Google over its Android operating system. The group says the EU should investigate Google’s “deceptive conduct to lockout competition” in the mobile market.
  • May 20, 2014: German and French ministers write to Almunia to criticize his plan to settle the case.
  • Sept. 10, 2014: Almunia says time has run out in his two-year long quest to clinch a settlement.
  • Nov. 1, 2014: New EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, takes over. Within weeks, officials are again quizzing Google rivals.
  • Nov. 27, 2014: European Parliament votes for Google to be broken up if the EU can’t resolve its antitrust investigation. The vote by lawmakers isn’t binding.
  • March 19, 2015: Two years after the U.S. settled its antitrust investigation into Google search, the Wall Street Journal publishes details of a staff report showing investigators concluded that Google abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals.
  • April 15, 2015: The EU ramps up its search case, sending Google a formal statement of objections “for abusing its dominance in the search-engine market by systematically favoring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages.” Vestager also opens a new probe into the Android operating system for mobile phones and tablets.
  • April 20, 2016: The EU escalates the Android probe, accusing Google of striking restrictive contracts that prevent makers of tablets and phones from adding competing apps and web browsers. The company also pays phone makers and telecoms operators to only install its search app on phones, the commission said.
  • July 14, 2016: Google’s AdSense for Search becomes the third of the company’s services to get an EU statement of objections listing potential competition problems. At the same time, the EU bolsters its search case by sending a second set of objections on search.
  • November 10, 2016: Google says the Android case threatens its strategy of providing free software to phone manufacturers. The company earlier blasted the EU’s search case that “just doesn’t fit the reality of how most people shop online.”
  • April 20, 2017: Vestager says regulators will follow closely Google’s proposed new ad-blocking feature for its Chrome browser.