March 20 (UPI) -- The European Union on Wednesday hit tech giant Google with a $1.7 billion fine -- its third in two years -- supposedly for driving down competition in online advertising.
The EU announced the fine Wednesday, saying Google's practices harm competitors.
"Google has cemented its dominance in online search [ads] and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites," EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. "This is illegal under EU antitrust rules."
"The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate -- and consumers the benefits of competition," she added.
Google dominates online search advertising in the European alliance, with 70 percent of the market share. EU officials said it accomplishes that level by preventing rivals from competing fairly, and for years prevented websites from using other search engines through exclusivity contracts.
Google's advertising business made $32.6 billion in revenues in the fourth quarter of 2018. AdSense was a big money maker for Google for years, giving the company's search bar a prominent position on third-party websites, which generated advertisements whenever users searched with it. Google did away with exclusivity requirements in 2016, at a time Google had just been hit with another antitrust action from the EU.
Google responded to the fine Wednesday by saying it supports competition online.
"We've always agreed that healthy, thriving markets are in everyone's interest," Google Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker said. "We've already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the [European] Commission's concerns. Over the next few months, we'll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe."
Wednesday's fine was Google's third from the alliance in the past two years. Last July, the EU imposed a $5 billion fine, saying Google abused the dominance of its Android operating system. In 2017, Google was fined $2.7 billion by the EU for favoring its shopping service over those of competitors.