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EU Hits Google Again With $1.69 Billion Antitrust Fine Over Advertising Practices

The search giant's AdSense business, which places targeted ads on third-party websites, unfairly restricted those publishers from hosting ads of Google competitors, according to the European Commission.

Europe hit Google with another fine exceeding $1 billion on Wednesday for what regulators deemed anti-competitive business tactics, this time in relation to Google's dominant search advertising business.

The European Union's antitrust regulator, the European Commission, accused the Mountain View, Calif.-based technology giant of stifling competition by contractually restricting publishers using its AdSense service from hosting its competitors' ads.

AdSense, a targeted advertising service offered by the Internet search leader, gave priority to Google on results pages, and required publishers to seek Google's approval when posting ads of rival businesses, the EC said.

[Related: Google Appeals $5 Billion EU Fine]

"Google has abused its market dominance by imposing restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites,” the European Commission said in a post on Twitter. “It prevented rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites We fine Google €1.49 billion for breaching #EUantitrust rules."

That practice, illegal under EU antitrust rules, lasted more than a decade. But Google eliminated the contested clauses in AdSense contracts in July of 2016 after the Commission formally objected.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced the fine in a news conference. She said AdSense contracts prevented Google's competitors any chance "to compete on the merits and to innovate."

Vestager signaled that Google could face more investigations because "complaints keep coming." Other Google divisions under the microscope are the search market for jobs and local search, she said.

Google Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker said Tuesday—the day before the fine came down—that the company was working to comply with the concerns of European regulators.

"We’ve been listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting, both from the European Commission, and from others. As a result, over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to our products in Europe," Walker wrote in a blog.

Google has already taken actions to comply with two previous EU cases—one for Google Shopping and the other involving the Android phone business, Walker noted.

In June of 2017, the same regulatory body fined Google a whopping $2.7 billion for giving its own comparison-shopping service an "illegal" advantage. Google practices amounted to an "abuse of Google's dominant position in general internet search," the EC said.

At the time, it was the largest fine ever imposed by the EU.

But a year later, the European Commission blew past that record penalty when it fined Google $5.05 billion for search engine practices related to its Android mobile operating system.

That record fine was in response to Google "breaching EU antitrust rules" by imposing "illegal restrictions" on Android device makers and mobile network operators, allegedly aimed at bolstering Google's search engine.

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