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France fines Google for abusing “dominant” ads position

UPDATED: Mon., June 7, 2021

A woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2018.  (Associated Press)
A woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2018. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

PARIS — Google is being fined $268 million by France’s antitrust watchdog for abusing its “dominant” position in online advertising.

Practices used by the search engine giant to sell ads “penalize Google’s competitors” along with publishers of mobile sites and applications, the Competition Authority said Monday. It is the responsibility of a company with a dominant market position to avoid undermining its competition.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, did not dispute the facts and opted to settle after proposing some changes, according to a prepared statement from the Competition Authority.

The head of the authority, Isabelle de Silva, said the decision was unprecedented in the way that it delved into the complex algorithmic auctions that power Google’s online display advertising business.

The fine, along with Google’s commitment to changing its practices, “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,” de Silva said.

Google France’s legal director, Maria Gomri, said in a blog post Monday that Google has been collaborating for the past two years with the French watchdog on issues related to ad technology, notably the platform known as Google Ad Manager. She wrote that commitments made during negotiations would “make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies.”

After tests in the months ahead, changes will be deployed more broadly, some of them globally, Gomri said.

The French authority’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., French newspaper group Le Figaro and Belgium-based Rossel La Voix. Le Figaro later withdrew its complaint.

U.S. tech giants have been facing intensifying scrutiny in Europe and elsewhere over their business practices. Germany became the latest country to launch an investigation of Google, using stepped up powers to scrutinize digital giants.

The German competition watchdog said Friday that it was examining whether contracts for news publishers using Google’s News Showcase, a licensing platform launched last fall, include “unreasonable conditions.”

European Union regulators have also charged Apple with stifling competition in music streaming, accused Amazon of using data from independent merchants to unfairly compete against them with its own products. They are informally investigating Google’s data practices for advertising purposes.

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