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Google hit back in court against the EU on Monday as it appealed against a record fine levied by the bloc for monopolistic practices with its Android operating system on mobile devices.
The 4.3 billion euro (~R78 billion) penalty, imposed by the European Commission in 2018, was the biggest-ever slapped on the American search engine juggernaut.
The case being heard in the EU’s general court is a major test for EU competition supremo Margerthe Vestager, who already lost an appeal by Apple and Ireland over taxes.
Google argues that the EU’s accusations over its highly popular operating system are unfounded and falsely blame it for blocking rivals on its search and maps apps on Android phones.
“Android is in truth an exceptional success story of the power of competition in action,” Google lawyer Meredith Pickford told a five-judge panel.
Moreover, the company contends that the EU case is unfairly blind to the presence of Apple, which imposes or gives clear preference to its own services such as Safari on iPhones.
“We will explain that… the commission shut its eyes to the real competitive dynamic in this industry, that between Apple and Android,” Pickford argued.
He also said that downloading rival apps was only a click away and that customers were in no way tied to Google products on Android.
The EU and its backers contend that Google used contracts with phone makers in the early days of Android to snuff out rivals.
This was done “at a critical time in the development of mobile computing, when the market was still contestable,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing FairSearch, whose original complaint launched the case in 2015.
The Android case was the third of three major cases brought against Google by Vestager, whose legal challenges were the first worldwide to directly take on the Silicon Valley giants.
Since then, global regulators have followed suit with Google facing a barrage of cases in the US and Asia based on similar accusations.
A victory in court for Google could prove a Pyrrhic one, however.
Brussels is in the process of shaping new legislation to regulate Big Tech more closely, with the EU frustrated at the length of time it takes to pursue competition cases.
Known as the Digital Markets Act, the new law would set up a rulebook of Do’s and Don’ts for Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
This could include specific bans or limits on such companies promoting their own services on platforms.