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Google goes 1-1 in Europe: EU upholds $2.8B fine; UK dismisses lawsuit over alleged iPhone tracking

The European Union’s General Court has rejected an appeal by Google and upheld a $2.8 billion fine against the company, originally levied in 2017 for favoring its own content in shopping search results. Separately, the UK Supreme Court ruled in Google’s favor in a 2017 class action-style lawsuit in which the company was accused of illegally collecting data on iPhone users.

The EU’s General Court upholds $2.8B fine. In 2017, the European Commission levied the largest antitrust penalty in its history up to that point — 2.4 billion euro ($2.8 billion) — against Google for allegedly favoring its own comparison shopping service. Google appealed the fine but, on Wednesday, the EU’s General Court upheld the European Commission’s 2017 decision, stating, “The General Court concludes its analysis by finding that the amount of the pecuniary penalty imposed on Google must be confirmed.”

“The General Court finds that, by favoring its own comparison shopping service on its general results pages through more favorable display and positioning, while relegating the results from competing comparison services in those pages by means of ranking algorithms, Google departed from competition on the merits,” the court said in a press release.

Google can file another appeal with the European Union’s highest court, the EU Court of Justice, but the company has yet to state what course of action it intends to pursue.

UK Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit over alleged tracking of iPhone users. Although Google lost its appeal in the EU, the UK Supreme Court ruled in its favor in a class action-style lawsuit which also dates back to 2017. The lawsuit claimed that Google bypassed the privacy settings of 4.4 million iPhone users in the UK between 2011 and 2012. The claimant, Richard Lloyd, former director of consumer rights group Which?, alleged that Google cookies gathered user data on race, health, sexuality, ethnicity and finance, regardless of users’ “do not track” privacy settings in the Safari browser. The damages could have cost Google up to three billion pounds.

“The claimant seeks damages … for each individual member of the represented class without attempting to show that any wrongful use was made by Google of personal data relating to that individual or that the individual suffered any material damage or distress as a result of a breach,” the UK Supreme Court said in its judgement.

Why we care. In the EU, the General Court’s ruling may strengthen the European Commission’s drive to regulate big tech, which doesn’t bode well for other platforms — like Amazon, Apple and Facebook — that are also currently under investigation. This also adds momentum to the proposed Digital Markets Act, which threatens to end self-preferencing in app search results. In addition, the tighter regulations may ultimately work in favor of Google’s competitors in the shopping vertical.

Google would have suffered another substantial blow if the UK Supreme Court ruled against it, since the decision could have paved the way for more class action-style lawsuits. In the UK, such lawsuits currently require people to opt-in, which can draw out the process. This also carries implications for other platforms, such as TikTok, which is being sued over the use of children’s data.

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