France fines Google €220m for antitrust abuse in advertising


French competition regulators have fined Google €220m for abusing its dominant position in the online advertising market and imposed changes to how it operates in the country for three years. 

The case laid out in detail how Google dominates the world of online advertising, and could provide a blueprint for other ongoing lawsuits against Google by US states like Texas, and investigations by regulators in Brussels and countries like the UK and Italy.

Google said it would not appeal the conclusions of the case, and said it would implement some of the remedies globally, according to a statement from France’s Competition Authority.

“Google used its vertically integrated business model in display advertising to gain an advantage over other competitors,” said Isabelle de Silva, the president of France’s Competition Authority, at a briefing on Monday.

“This is the first investigation in the world that examines the display advertising space where Google is dominant, and the first time Google has agreed to a settlement with engagements. This case will be of interest to other regulators who are looking at the online ad market and technologies.”

The case began with a complaint in 2019 from News Corp, the French newspaper Le Figaro, and the Groupe Rossel of Belgium. Le Figaro decided to withdraw from the case in November 2020.

Investigators found that Google, which owns the leading tools for buying and selling online ads, as well as the biggest marketplace for online ads, had tied its products together in a way that disadvantaged rivals.

In particular, they looked at the close relationship between Google’s AdX exchange, the marketplace where adverts are auctioned, and Google’s Ad Manager, an ad sales platform that grew out of the $3.1bn acquisition of DoubleClick in 2008.

They said Google had shared pricing information on rivals from Ad Manager to help AdX gain an advantage over other auction houses. This “slants the playing field”, said Da Silva. 

Google said it would “increase the flexibility” of Ad Manager to “make it easier” for publishers and advertisers “to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies”.

In a blog post, the company said it had committed to “increased access to data” for users and stressed its commitment to being more transparent.

Damien Geradin, legal representative for News Corp, said the decision was “critically important” because it found Google in breach of EU rules through a number of anti-competitive tactics that the search giant did not contest.

Geradin added that the decision will give “ammunition” to various competition authorities, including Brussels and the US, where there are similar cases opened against Google. 

He added: “The language used by the French decision is quite strident. The decision qualifies the infringement as extremely severe.”

He said that while the fine was on the “lower” side, the remedies are designed to ensure greater interoperability between Google’s ad server and ad exchanges. “This should allow these other ad exchanges to be in a better position to compete with Google.”



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