BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google has hit back at EU antitrust regulators’ warning of a possible hefty fine, saying this would be inappropriate because of the unusual nature of the case and its willingness to settle the case with concessions last year.
In its reply to the European Commission’s April charge sheet, the world’s most popular search engine also faulted regulators for not taking into account the fact that it was offering a free search service.
The company’s robust defense came after the Commission accused it of distorting search results to favor its shopping service, harming both rivals and users, following a five-year investigation.
The Commission’s charge sheet, called a statement of objections, said it “would set the fine at a level sufficient to ensure deterrence” if Google was found guilty. Based on its 2014 turnover, this could be as much as $6.6 billion.
The company said there was no basis for a sanction, according to a redacted version of its reply sent to complainants and seen by Reuters.
“Imposing a fine in the present case would be inappropriate. The novelty of the statement of objections’ theory, the selection of the case for commitment negotiation and Google’s good faith participating in these negotiations militate against the imposition of a fine,” the document said.
Google said it should not be charged with abusing its dominance in Europe as it provided a free search service.
“The statement of objections fails to take proper account of the fact that search is provided for free. A finding of abuse of dominance requires a ‘trading relationship’ as confirmed by consistent case law. No trading relationship exists between Google and its users.”
Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso declined to comment. Google spokesman Al Verney said the company had nothing to add to comments issued in August.
The document also criticized the EU enforcer for not providing an explanation for rejecting a third package of concessions offered in January.
Third parties have until the end of the month to provide feedback to the Commission before it decides on the case.
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, editing by David Evans