DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And we're following a pretty stunning legal judgment from Brussels this morning. The European Union has fined Google 2.4 billion euros - that's about $2.7 billion - for breaking anti-trust rules. The European Commission, which polices EU competition rules, says Google unfairly abused its power over search results by promoting its results over competitors. Let's bring in NPR tech reporter Aarti Shahani. Aarti, what happened here?
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Well, Europe is using its legal system to fight back against the American search giant. The gist of it is this. When you use Google to shop for a product - right? - say I want to buy shoes or a barbecue grill, you get different results back listing the places that you can buy from, right?
SHAHANI: Well, according to the European Commission, Google is abusing its market dominance as the lead search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping services in the results and demoting competitors' shopping services. So after a seven-year-long investigation, they're hitting the company - which, by the way, is renamed legally Alphabet, right? They're hitting...
GREENE: Oh right. The holding company was renamed that, yeah.
SHAHANI: Exactly. Google to Alphabet. They're hitting them with this enormous fine. And it's reportedly the biggest fine the EU has ever given a single company in an antitrust case. Google/Alphabet has about - has 90 days to fix the problem or they get fined more.
GREENE: OK, so they're being accused of promoting their own shopping services, where if I would buy something, they would actually benefit somehow as opposed to competitors. Is Google/Alphabet acknowledging that they're doing this?
SHAHANI: No, the company's flat-out denying the claim and has basically been saying, you know, hey, our secret algorithms do not give unfair preferential treatment to us. They're designed to give consumers, who are searching for shoes and barbecue grills, the best possible experience, right?
So that's why Google shows ads with pictures and ratings and prices from different competitors - because people want that kind of thing. People want to just search once and not have to click and click to get to their product. That's their stance.
Google's lawyer in Europe says in a statement today that the search engine only shows these ad results when people's search habits show it's working, that they're clicking and they like it. And in terms of helping competition, he says that by the way, you know, European businesses are using our Google ads to compete with other American giants, like Amazon and like eBay.
GREENE: I mean, this seems like such a surprise. I wonder if, you know, how the European approach to this sort of thing compares to regulators in the United States.
SHAHANI: Oh well, it's a night-and-day difference approach. You know, in the U.S., we had an antitrust investigation into Google years ago. Competitors like Microsoft, like Yelp, they were jumping up and down saying, hey, Google's cheating here. But then the Federal Trade Commission came around and looked into it and said while they found some evidence, they decided to drop the case. That was in 2013.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Aarti Shahani. Thanks so much.
SHAHANI: Thank you.
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