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PARIS: France’s competition regulator fined Google € 220 million ($ 267 million) on Monday after discovering that it had abused its dominant market position to place online ads amid US tech giants in Europe are exposed to increasing pressure.
The penalty is part of a settlement reached after three media groups – News Corp, the French daily Le Figaro and the Belgian Groupe Rossel – accused Google of effectively having a monopoly on ad sales for their websites and apps.
The competition agency found that Google gave preference to its own ad inventory auction service, AdX, and Doubleclick Ad Exchange, its real-time platform through which customers can select and buy ads.
“It is the first ruling in the world that examines the complex algorithmic processes for the auctions that determine online display advertising,” said the agency’s president, Isabelle de Silva.
Media groups looking to sell advertising space on their websites or mobile apps through competing platforms often found that Google’s services were in unfair competition with competitors using a variety of methods.
For example, regulators have found that Doubleclick varies the commission for a sale based on the prices of other so-called ad servers.
At the same time, Google has ensured that AdX, its own supply-side platform (SSP), gives preferential treatment to offers from Doubleclick and effectively displaces competitors such as Xandr or Index Exchange.
“The practices are particularly severe because they punish Google’s competitors in the SSP market and the publishers of websites and mobile apps,” the regulator said in a statement.
Media companies saw their online advertising revenues cut, “although their business model was severely undermined by the decline in paper subscriptions and the associated advertising revenues,” it said.
Le Figaro eventually dropped his complaint.
Google didn’t deny the results, and the regulator said the company was committed to operational changes, including improved interoperability with third-party ad placement providers.
“We will test and develop these changes in the coming months before we roll them out on a wider scale, including some on a global scale,” said Maria Gomri, Legal Director at Google France, in a statement.
The fine is just a tiny fraction of the $ 55.3 billion that Google made in the first quarter of this year alone, mostly from online ad sales.
The verdict comes as American tech companies scrutinize European authorities who are giving themselves new resources to better understand the complexities of fast-moving markets.
Last week, the German competition authority announced that it would expand an antitrust investigation against Google and its parent company Alphabet to Google News Showcase, a service designed to increase revenue for media publishers.
Facebook was also attacked last week by parallel competitive inquiries from the European Union and the UK as to whether the social media giant is using data from advertisers to dominate the online classifieds market.
Google had already been fined 150 million euros by the French regulatory authority in December 2019 for “opaque” operating rules for its advertising platform, which were considered to be “unfair and arbitrary”.
And in December last year, both Google and Amazon were fined a total of 135 million euros by the French data protection authority for placing advertising cookies on users’ computers without consent.