Big Tech giant Google has been fined an unprecedented $268 million in France for abusing its substantial power in the world of online advertising. The Silicon Valley corporation has promised to make changes to its business structure in response.
In a statement, France’s Competition Authority accused Google of abusing its “dominant position,” and giving “preferential treatment” to its own Ad platform.
“France’s competition watchdog said Google has been promoting its own online advertising services to the detriment of rivals,” reported the BBC, adding that the watchdog had “found that Google’s ad management platform for large publishers, Google Ad Manager, favored the company’s own online ad marketplace, Google AdX.”
“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 Competition Authority, Autorité de la concurrence.
“These very serious practices have penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position,” added de Silva, according to CNBC. “This sanction and these commitments will make it possible to re-establish a level playing field for all actors, and the ability of publishers to make the most of their advertising spaces.”
Meanwhile, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire added, “The practices put in place by Google to favor 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.”
Google’s French legal director, Maria Gomri, responded via a blog post, saying “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.”
Despite the recent wave of fines, Gomri claimed that Google has “worked for years to bring increased transparency to programmatic advertising, including taking steps to simplify our platforms,” including efforts to “[combine] our publisher ad server and ad exchange to become Google Ad Manager and shifting to a unified first price auction in Ad Manager to help reduce complexity and create a fair and transparent market for everyone.”
“We are always working on improving our ad tech products to help publishers fund their content and businesses and help advertisers efficiently reach customers,” concluded Gomri. “We recognise the role that ad tech plays in supporting access to content and information and we’re committed to working collaboratively with regulators and investing in new products and technologies that give publishers more choice and better results when using our platforms.”
As the BBC noted, this is not the first time Google has faced strong financial punishment in Europe. In 2017, Google was fined €2.42 billion for “hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.” In 2018, the European Union competition authority fined Google €4.34 billion “for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals.” In 2019, Google was fined twice; once for €50 million by the French data regulator CNIL “for a breach of the EU’s data protection rules,” and once for €1.49 billion by the European Union “for blocking rival online search advertisers.”
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