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FRA | Jun 8, 2021

Google slapped with heavy €220 million fine in France for uncompetitive practices

/ Our Today

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Tech giant cited for abusing advertising power

A sign is pictured outs a Google offcie near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., May 8, 2019. (File Photo: REUTERS/Paresh Dave)

American Technology giant Google has been cited for uncompetitive practices in France and fined €220 million (£189 million) for abusing its advertising power.

France’s competition watchdog, Autorité de la concurrence (Competition Authority), which imposed the fine, found that Google’s ad management platform for large publishers, Google Ad Manager, favoured the company’s own online ad marketplace, Google AdX. The watch dog agency also found that Google has been promoting its own online advertising services to the detriment of rivals.

Arising from the findings and the fine, Google responded that it would be making the changes to its advertising business to become compliant with France’s competition rules. The US tech giant has agreed to make it easier for publishers to use its data and tools.

The BBC quoted a statement from Google saying, “we will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally”. Autorité de la concurrence launched its investigation in 2019 following a joint complaint from News Corp, French news publishing group, Le Figaro and Belgian press group, Rossel.

Ruling paves the way for damages to be sought from Google

The competition watchdog agency says its decision opens the way for publishers who felt disadvantaged 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,” said Isabelle de Silva, chief of France’s Autorité de la concurrence.

She reported that Google Ad Manager provided AdX with strategic data such as the winning bidding prices, while AdX also enjoyed privileged access to requests made by advertisers via Google’s ad services. AdX exchanged data more smoothly with Ad Manager than with other advertising management platforms.

The platforms are crucial for publishers to manage and sell advertising space. According to French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, “the practices put in place by Google to favour its own advertising technologies have affected press groups, whose business model is heavily dependent on ad revenues. These are serious practices and they have been rightly sanctioned”.

In its response, Google France through its Legal Director, Maria Gomri, Google France told the BBC, “while we believe we offer valuable services and compete on the merits, we are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products”.

Google was also previously fined for breaching EU advertising rules

This is not the first time the American tech giant, owned by Alphabet, has been slapped with heavy fines for falling foul of European advertising rules. In 2019, Google was fined €1.49 billion (£1.28 billion) by the European Union (EU) for blocking rival online search advertisers.

The company was also fined €50 million (£44 million) in 2019 by the French data regulator CNIL, for a breach of the EU’s data protection rules. The EU competition authority fined the company a record €4.34 billion (£3.9 billion) fine in 2018 for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals.

Prior to that, in 2017, Google was fined €2.42 billion for hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.

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