French Watchdog Slaps Google With $270 Million Fine For Online Advertising ‘Abuse’

Topline

Google will make changes to its advertising technology and pay an almost $270 million fine to settle an antitrust case in France that accused the tech giant of abusing its dominant position in the online advertising sector, the latest development in a wave of regulatory action around the world aimed at holding big tech companies to account.  

Key Facts

Google agreed to pay France’s competition watchdog 220 million euros (around $267 million) after it found the search engine giant to have “abused its dominant position” in the advertising market to unfairly prioritize its own products and services and discriminated against its competition. 

Google did not dispute the facts of the case, the authority said, and offered up a series of binding commitments to improve its system and boost flexibility for its users.

Isabelle de Silva, the French watchdog’s president, said the enforcement action “is the first decision in the world to look into complex algorithmic auctions processes through which online display advertising works.”

Google’s legal director in France, Maria Gomri, wrote in a blog post that the company is “committed to working collaboratively with regulators and investing in new products and technologies” to give publishers more choice on its platforms.

Gomri said Google would work to make its ad platform more transparent and will give users increased access to data as part of the changes.    

Key Background

The settlement is the final step in a series of events triggered by a 2019 complaint against Google’s ad practices by several media companies over the tech giant’s ad practices in France. Google is the clear leader in online advertising, a ubiquitous yet confusing and opaque industry that is fast becoming the target of competition and privacy watchdogs around the world. Last week, regulators in the U.K. and Europe launched two antitrust probes into Facebook’s advertising practices. 

What To Watch For

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google in December for alleged antitrust violations following a 16 month investigation. The lawsuit noted that Google has “monopoly power” in the online advertising space, taking over 70% of market share in the search advertising market. 

What We Don’t Know

As the changes are only binding in France, it is not yet clear whether Google will also implement them elsewhere in Europe or in the rest of the world. 

Further Reading

Justice Department Sues Google For Antitrust Violations (Forbes)

Some changes to our ad technology (Google Blog)

Online advertising techniques explained (Mozilla)

EU And U.K. Regulators Open Antitrust Probe Into Facebook’s Handling Of Advertising Data (Forbes)

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