France fines Google €220 million for unfair advertising practices

Google not to appeal and pledges global ad changes

France fines Google €220 million for unfair advertising practices
Isabelle de Silva, the president of the French competition authority Screen shot from Women

French government competition regulators fined Google €220 million for misusing its dominance in online advertising. Moreover, the company settled and agreed to make changes in its practices due to the investigation by the competition authorities. Hopefully, the settlement will redress some of the complaints by the news and digital publishers who in other countries have either filed cases against Google. Or, as in India, where the Indian Newspaper Society has sent a letter asking for better sharing of revenues, maybe preparing the ground for legal action.

“Google used its vertically integrated business model in display advertising to gain an advantage over other competitors,” said Isabelle de Silva, the president of the French competition authority, on 7 June. “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 settlement in France finds Google unfairly favored its tools for buying and selling online ads over rival aggregators. As stated above by the regulators, it is the first time that the company has agreed to change its practices due to an investigation.

Google, which generally communicates by its blog posts, said it would make changes to Ad Manager, the platform used by large publishers, and alter its AdX operations that auctions digital inventory. The regulator said that Ad Manager shared pricing information of rivals to give AdX an advantage over other news aggregators and auction platforms.

Google not to appeal – changes to be global

“We have agreed on a set of commitments to make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies,” said Google, which stated it does not intend to appeal against the settlement. “We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally.”

The decision could help some aggrieved publishers to seek damages from Google. “The decision to sanction Google is of particular significance because it’s the first decision in the world focusing on the complex algorithmic auction processes on which the online ad business relies,” added de Silva.

The case started in 2019 with a complaint from News Corp. In February 2021, it made a deal with the company and dropped out of the case. The French daily Le Figaro also initially took part in the case against the company dropped out in November 2020.

The company has a history of consistently breaking European advertising regulations year after year – and was fined € 1.5 billion for blocking other ad search engines in 2019. In addition, it was fined € 4.3 billion for using its Android mobile operating system to block rivals in 2018. In 2017, it was fined € 2.4 billion for interfering with other shopping comparison web platforms.

The French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said, “The practices put in place by Google to favor its advertising technologies have affected press groups, whose business model is heavily dependent on ad revenues,” he said. “These are serious practices, and they have been rightly sanctioned.”

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