The net is finally closing in on US tech giants’ dominance of the online advertising market, with Brussels opening yet another formal investigation, this time into the power Google wields over its rivals.
The probe will examine the company’s role in collecting data, selling ad space and acting as an online ad intermediary.
It comes just two weeks after both the UK Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and the European Commission launched investigations into whether Facebook is abusing digital advertising markets through its collection and use of data.
Google has said it will co-operate with the inquiry; earlier this month, the French authorities whacked the tech giant with a €220m (£189m) fine for abusing its advertising power.
The EU competition authority has been highly critical of Google’s modus operandi in the past. It fined the company a record €4.34bn (£3.9bn) fine in 2018 for using its Android mobile operating system to block rivals. Google was also fined €1.49bn (£1.28bn) by the EU for blocking rival online search advertisers in 2019. That followed a €2.42bn fine in 2017 for hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the fact that the company is present “at all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising” is concerning.
She added: “Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetise their online services.
“Google collects data to be used for targeted advertising purposes, it sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary. A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain.
“Fair competition is important – both for advertisers to reach consumers on publishers’ sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers.”
The inquiry will examine a number of factors, including the obligation to use Google’s services and or Google Ads to purchase display ads on YouTube; the obligation to use Google Ad Manager to service online display ads on YouTube; and the apparent favouring of Google’s ad exchange, AdX, by its other services.
It will also probe the restrictions placed by Google on the ability of rival advertisers to access data about user identity or behaviour; Google’s plans to prohibit third-party cookies on Chrome; and Google’s plans to stop making the ad identifier available to third parties on Android smart mobile devices.
In the UK, Google has already been forced to give the CMA the final say on any new system to replace third-party cookies, with the competition regulator playing a major role in its design and development.
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