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Google faces third eu antitrust fine within weeks

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Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is set to announce a penalty targeting the AdSense advertising service in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the probe who spoke on condition of anonymity.

[BRUSSELS] The curtain could soon fall on the last in a trilogy of European Union antitrust fines for Alphabet Inc's Google.

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is set to announce a penalty targeting the AdSense advertising service in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the probe who spoke on condition of anonymity. Regulators were probing whether Google's advertising contracts unfairly restricted rivals.

The penalty will mark the culmination - for now - of more than eight years of active antitrust investigation into the US tech giant. The company has already racked up US$7.6 billion in fines and faces a potential threat of more if it doesn't obey EU orders to change its behavior.

The EU said in 2016 that Google hindered competition for online ads with its AdSense for Search product which places advertising on websites, including retailers, telecommunications operators and newspapers. While its European market share is more than 80 per cent, AdSense contributed less than 20 per cent of Google's total ad revenue in 2015, a percentage which has declined steadily since 2010.

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The commission in July fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros(S$6.64 billion) in the Android case, demanding that the company change the way it puts search and web-browser apps onto Android mobile devices. A year earlier, Google received a then-record 2.4 billion-euro penalty after regulators accused it of skewing results to thwart smaller shopping search services.

The fine is likely to be lower than in the previous cases, because Google has collaborated with the commission and has already introduced changes in AdSense, according to Aitor Ortiz, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence in London.

"A fine isn't likely to cause long-term harm to the company as AdSense has been replaced by other products," he said. "If you look at the annual reports, AdSense is less and less relevant."

Google and the commission in Brussels declined to comment on the timing of the fine decision, which could still be pushed back.

Vestager in November said the AdSense probe was reaching the end but wouldn't be finalized before the new year. Officials allege that the company prevented customers from accepting rival search ads from 2006 and maintained restrictions on how competitors' ads were displayed when it altered contracts in 2009.

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