June 20, 2021

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Google has been fined €220 million by the French competition watchdog for abusing a dominant position in the online advertising market.

In a landmark case, the technology company also agreed to change its practices in the search for a level playing field in online advertising, the regulator said.

The settlement is binding only in France, but the changes could be implemented elsewhere as Google seeks to head off complaints over its dominant market position in other countries.

“We are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products,” Maria Gomri, the legal director of Google France, said.

“That’s why, as part of an overall resolution of the [French] investigation, 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. We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally.”

The case was brought by News Corp, parent company of The Times, Rossel La Voix, the Belgian media group, and Le Figaro, the French newspaper publisher. It centred on claims that Google’s Doubleclick for Publishers (DFP) advertising service, used by publishers wanting to sell and to manage digital advertising space, and its online Doubleclick AdExchange (AdX) advertising auction house, meshed together in such a way as to undermine rival platforms and publishers.

The FCA concluded that DFP and AdX used technologies that benefitted each other to the detriment of competitors. It also said that the system gave Google’s own auction house a competitive advantage by providing it with information about rival bids.

Isabelle de Silva, the regulator’s chairwoman, said: “The decision sanctioning Google has a very special meaning because it is the first decision in the world to look into complex algorithmic auction processes through which online display advertising works.

“These very serious practices penalised competition in the emerging online advertising market and allowed Google not only to maintain but also to increase its dominant position.

“This sanction and these commitments will make it possible to re-establish a level playing field for all players and the ability for publishers to make the most of their advertising space.”

The authority said that Google had not disputed the claims made against it and had agreed to settle the case.

In a statement, the competition authority said: “The practices in question are particularly serious because they penalised Google’s competitors in the sell-side platforms market and publishers of mobile sites and applications.” It added that Google’s dominant position gave it a “particular responsibility to avoid distorting competition”.

Bruno Le Maire, the French economy minister, said: “These are serious practices and they have been rightly sanctioned.”

The decision in France comes as Google’s online advertising market tools are under scrutiny worldwide, including in Britain and the United States. France, however, has been at the forefront of attempts to clamp down on internet groups, introducing a so-called Gafa tax on the sales of powerhouses such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon rather than on their profits in 2019, before suspending the measure under pressure from Washington. Ministers have yet to make clear whether the Gafa tax will be scrapped altogether after the G7 agreement on a minimum global corporate tax rate.

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Google fined €220m by French regulator over ad market abuses

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