BRUSSELS — European regulators came down hard on another U.S. tech giant Wednesday, fining Google a record $5 billion for forcing cellphone makers that use the company’s Android operating system to install Google search and browser apps.
The European Union said Google’s practices restrict competition and reduce choices for consumers.
While Google can easily afford the fine, the ruling could undermine the company’s business model, which relies on giving away its operating system in return for opportunities to sell ads and other products.
Google immediately said it will appeal, arguing that its free operating system has led to lower-price phones and created competition with its chief rival, Apple.
Android has “created more choice for everyone, not less,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted.
Google has 90 days to put remedies in place regardless of its appeal — which could involve unbundling key apps and allowing Android handset manufacturers to sell devices using altered versions of Android.
Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit group that creates the lightweight ad-blocking browser Firefox Focus, said the ruling gives it the opportunity to displace Chrome as the default browser in some phones. It has been in talks with manufacturers from Huawei to Samsung about that.
The ruling creates “a huge opportunity,” Denelle Dixon, Mozilla’s chief operating officer, said Wednesday.
It’s also possible not much will change. Google Search, Chrome and the Play Store are popular with consumers and developers. Handset manufacturers could choose them despite unbundling.
“It’s possible phone manufacturers won’t actually take advantage of the newfound freedom they have,” said Thomas Vinje, lead lawyer for FairSearch, the Brussels-based lobbying group backed by Oracle, TripAdvisor and others that was the main complainant in the case. “It at least opens up the possibility.”