Google fined $790m by French antitrust agency

Gaspard Sebag

Paris | Google was fined €500 million ($791 million) in France after the search giant failed to follow an order to thrash out a fair deal with publishers to use their news content on its platform.

The Alphabet unit ignored a 2020 decision to negotiate in good faith for displaying snippets of articles on its Google News service, the Autorité de la concurrence said on Tuesday. The fine is the second-biggest antitrust penalty in France for a single company.

Google ignored a 2020 decision to negotiate in good faith for displaying snippets of articles on its Google News service, the Autorité de la concurrence said. AP

“The sanction of €500 million takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the breaches observed,” said Isabelle de Silva, president of the French agency.

Google was “very disappointed” with the decision and believed it “acted in good faith throughout the entire process”, a spokesperson said. The tech giant added that it was about to reach an agreement with Agence France-Presse that included a global licensing agreement.

Google can appeal against the penalty.

The confrontation between Google and newspaper owners and wire services has been a long time coming. European publishers have been pushing regulators for more than a decade to tackle the power of Google, which has lured away billions of euros in advertising revenue.

Complaints were lodged in France in 2019 by groupings representing newspapers and magazines as well as Agence France-Presse.

Isabelle de Silva said regulators dismissed the remuneration offered by Google as “negligible”. Elke Meitze

Tuesday’s fine is the latest show of strength by the French regulator as it vies with its EU and German counterparts to be the region’s toughest watchdog of US tech firms.

In recent years, the authority has tended to order behavioural changes before the end of investigations, which can drag on for years. While this has spurred other antitrust agencies to emulate the tactic, Google’s defiance risked jeopardising it.

Earlier this year, Google reached a deal to remunerate a grouping of French newspapers, the Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale. There have also been talks with magazine owners and AFP.

But Ms de Silva said regulators dismissed the remuneration offered by Google as “negligible”. She criticised the tech giant for offering to pay the same amount for news content that it did for dictionary listings or weather information.

As part of Tuesday’s decision, Google was ordered to enter negotiations within two months of fresh requests from the plaintiff press publishers or face daily fines reaching as much as €900,000 a day.

Google may risk a further attack in the news case as French regulators are expected to hand down a decision on the substance of the case, which may also include fines, at the end of the year.

Silicon Valley firms have been facing close French scrutiny in recent years. Google agreed last month to pay a €220 million penalty to settle an investigation that struck at the heart of its power over online advertising. In 2019, it was fined €150 million in a case focusing on its Google Ads platform.

The authority’s record €1.1 billion fine was issued last year against Apple after the US firm was criticised for anti-competitive agreements with two distributors over the sale of non-iPhone products such as Apple Mac computers.

Apple is appealing against the penalty.

Bloomberg

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