The EU just hit Google with a $5 billion fine over its Android operating system

A thorn in Google’s side.
A thorn in Google’s side.
Image: Eric Vidal/Reuters
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The European Union has hit Google with a record antitrust fine of €4.34 billion ($5.04 billion) after it found that the company unfairly used its Android operating system to maintain the dominance of its own apps and services—and particularly its search engine.

The European Commission agreed on the penalty today (July 18), the largest-ever in an EU antitrust case, and said that Google behaved illegally by prompting phone manufacturers to pre-install Google apps and services on devices. Though the company provides Android for free to companies, it lays down certain conditions on the use of the operating system by phone makers—and essentially forces them to include apps like Search and its Chrome web browser as a condition for licensing its Play app store on phones.

The EU also said that Google’s practice of making payments to certain large manufacturers and network operators on condition they exclusively pre-install its search app on devices was illegal. So too was its practice of not allowing manufacturers who wished to use custom versions of Android to pre-install Google apps, it said.

“In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy. “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 is illegal under EU antitrust rules.”

Google has long rejected the EU’s charges, and can appeal the decision.

The fine may be large, but it’s just a drop in the bucket for Google, which made more than $110 billion in revenue last year. Nonetheless, the lead complainant in the case welcomed the decision. “Fines make headlines. Effective remedies make a difference,” the CEO of Foundem, Shivaun Raff, said in a statement.

The move against Google is just the latest in an ongoing battle with the company. Vestager previously fined Google €2.4 billion after a separate investigation into its shopping comparison service. Google is in the process of appealing that ruling.