European regulators on Wednesday fined Google a record $5 billion and ordered changes that could affect which Google-owned apps appear on smartphones and tablets running its Android mobile operating system.
The steep penalties from Margrethe Vestager, the European Union's competition chief, marks the second time in as many years that the region has found that Google wields its power in a way that harms competition and consumers. In this case, Vestager faulted Google for using Android as a means to solidify its strong foothold in search and advertising, while making it harder for rivals to offer competing apps and services.
"Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine," Vestager said in a statement. "In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. 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."
A spokeswoman for Google did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Vestager first outlined competition complaints with Android, the most widely adopted mobile operating system in the world, roughly two years ago. Google long has issued device makers like Huawei, LG and Samsung an ultimatum: They must set Google's search engine as the default on Android smartphones and tablets and pre-install Google's Chrome web browser, or they risk losing access Google's app store, called Google Play. Without that portal, owners of Android devices can't download games and other tools from third-party developers.
For Google, bundling its apps offers the tech giant a way to derive data from smartphone users while serving them lucrative ads. The company also has maintained that it never stopped Android users from downloading rival services if they preferred. The tech giant can appeal the ruling.
In 2017, Vestager slapped the U.S.-based tech giant with a $2.7 billion fine for giving its shopping-comparison service prime real estate in search results over its rivals' competing offerings. Vestager previously has announced she is also probing other elements of Google's sprawling corporate empire, including its advertising business.