EU's Biggest Penalties on Global Tech Companies

Alphabet Inc.'s Google (GOOGL), the world’s leading internet giant, was penalized $5 billion this Wednesday on charges of abusing its dominant position its Android smartphone operating system enjoys in the market. The record fine was the maximum ever imposed on a technology company in the EU region. (For more, see Google: Will EU's $5B Fine Curb Its Dominance?)

The EU is now being called a “technology battleground,” owing to its tough and long-standing record of imposing heavy penalties on tech companies, and the stringent rules it has on issues of taxation, data protection, control and management of online content, and competition

List of EU Penalties imposed on Technology Companies

Here is the chronological list of top fines imposed on the technology companies by the EU authorities over the last decade and a half (figures converted from euro to US dollars at the then prevailing exchange rates):

  • March 2004 — Microsoft (MSFT) was fined around $578 million by the EU Competition Commission on charges of flouting antitrust rules as it was found forcing Windows customers to use its Windows Media Player, and was ordered to stop the practice.
  • July 2006 — Microsoft faced another penalty of around $325 million for not adhering to the above 2004 ruling.
  • February 2008 — Microsoft fined a then record amount of $1 billion, for again failing to comply with the above 2004 decision. The penalty amount was later decreased to around $955 million.
  • December 2009 — The EU Competition Commission opens doors for third-party browser on Windows platform by ordering Microsoft to turn off Internet Explorer and let users go with other browsers. No monetary fines involved.
  • May 2009 — Leading chipmaker Intel Inc. (INTC) was fined $1.2 billion for paying computer manufacturers to delay or suspend product releases linked to chips made by competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc.(AMD), a practice that was cited as an abuse of dominant position by Intel.
  • December 2012 — Multiple consumer electronic manufacturers, including Koninklijke Philips NV (ADR) (PHG), LG Electronics, and Panasonic Corp. (PCRFY), were jointly fined $1.7 billion by the Commission on charges of running cartels.
  • March 2013 — Microsoft penalized $653 million for its non-compliance to the Internet Explorer decision of 2009.
  • May 2014 — The European Court of Justice rules that individuals have the right to be forgotten, and search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing were ordered to remove the necessary links from the search engine results.
  • August 2016 — Apple Inc. (AAPL) asked to pay unpaid taxes worth around $14.6 billion as the Commission orders Ireland to recover the sum from the company.
  • May 2017 — Social media giant Facebook (FB) is fined $122 million on charges of misleading the European authorities about its acquisition of the popular WhatsApp messaging service.
  • June, 2017 — Search engine giant Google is penalized a then record $2.7 billion for driving users to its own shopping platform through its search engine. The matter remains pending as the company has filed an appeal against the decision.
  • October 2017 — Online retailer Inc. (AMZN​​​​​​​) is ordered to pay taxes around $293 million after the Commission finds that it benefited from an unauthorized arrangement with Luxembourg.
  • January 2018 — American chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM​​​​​​​) is penalized $1.2 billion on charges of making payment worth billions to Apple asking it to not use chips made by Qualcomm competitors.
  • March 2018 — Europe orders tech giants holding user-generated content to remove extreme- and hate speech-related content within an hour of it being flagged by a user. The ruling affects companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter Inc. (TWTR​​​​​​​).
  • May 2018 — Europe implements a new data protection law, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which sets up new strict rulings on how the companies seek, store, manage and use personal data of the users. (See also, All You Need to Know About GDPR, the New Data Law.)
  • July 2018 — Google asked to cough up a new record fine of $5 billion fine over misuse of its dominant position for its Android mobile operating system.

Along with tech companies, EU has also heavily penalized other industries. It includes imposing more than $3 billion fine in July 2016 and September 2017 on several truck-makers for price collusion, and around $1.5 billion fine on car-glass makers for illegally sharing commercially sensitive information in November 2008.

Many of the earlier rulings are still to be implemented, as the affected companies have used legal routes of appeals to keep them pending.


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