PARIS— Alphabet Inc.
Google has agreed to pay French regulators a fine of nearly $ 270 million, settling one of the world’s first antitrust cases alleging the tech company abused its leadership role in digital advertising.
The French competition authority said it had also accepted a series of commitments offered by Google to settle the case, including promises to make it easier for competitors to use its online advertising tools. The Wall Street Journal first announced the proposed settlement last month.
Google’s commitments will be binding for three years, the authority said.
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“We have agreed on a set of commitments to facilitate the use of data by publishers and the use of our tools with other advertising technologies,” said Maria Gomri, legal director of Google in France in a blog post. “We are committed to working with regulators and investing in new products and technologies that provide publishers with more choice and better results when using our platforms,” she said.
While Google’s commitments are only binding in France, they will become a model for how the company could resolve similar complaints from publishers and ad technology rivals elsewhere, potentially changing the way Google operates its business. system in the world. Ms Gomri said Google would test its changes “over the next few months before rolling them out more widely, including some globally.”
In connection with the case, the French competition authority alleged that the company’s ad server, historically known as DoubleClick for Publishers and used by most major online publishers to sell advertising space, gave Google’s online auction house, AdX, an edge in advertising auctions, in part by providing information on competing bids.
The authority also alleged other forms of self-preference between Google’s ad technology tools, including AdX providing better interoperability options to DoubleClick for Publishers.
“These practices were particularly serious because of their powerful impact on online advertising intermediaries,” Isabelle de Silva, president of the French Competition Authority, told a press conference on Monday.
The regulator said Google has made five general commitments under the regulation. These include no longer allowing AdX to use its competitor’s offers to optimize its own offers and giving competing ad servers equal access to ad auction data, the regulator said. An independent observer will be responsible for monitoring Google’s compliance and reporting to French regulators.
The settlement is part of a wider wave of antitrust enforcement against big tech companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Last week, the European Union and the UK each said they were opening formal antitrust investigations on Facebook Inc.
classifieds function, dubbed Marketplace. The EU has also filed antitrust charges against Apple Inc.
and Amazon.com Inc.
The companies deny the wrongdoing and dispute the charges.
Google’s business of negotiating the sale of ads, which is part of a business that accounted for 13% of Alphabet’s $ 182.53 billion in revenue last year, is one area of focus. most recent and complex interest for regulators. It has also long been a source of competition concerns from rivals.
Publishers and ad technology competitors have complained for years about Google’s ownership of some of the most widely used tools for buying, selling, and auctioning ads. They also criticized Google for owning and operating its own ad-supported products, such as Google search and YouTube, saying this creates conflicts of interest that hurt competition in online advertising.
A Texas-led group of US states sued Google in December 2020 for allegedly operating a digital advertising monopoly. The UK competition authority opened an investigation in January to determine whether Google’s plan to remove user tracking tools called cookies from its Chrome browser could hurt competition in the online advertising industry. The European Commission, the EU’s main antitrust regulator, has also investigated Google’s advertising activity.
The French case stems from a complaint filed with the authority in 2019 by a group of press editors led by News Corp,
the parent company of the Journal. News Corp, which has always been a vocal critic of Google’s role in the ad technology industry, has since made a pact with it to get paid for its content, but remains the main plaintiff in the case.
The French Competition Authority has been investigating potential anti-competitive behavior in the online advertising sector for several years, publishing a report on the subject in 2018.
The French authority spent about a year investigating the case filed by News Corp and last year presented antitrust charges describing Google’s allegedly unlawful behavior, the authority said. Google then offered to settle the claim and discussed solutions with the authority, attending a hearing on the proposed settlement in May, the regulator said.
Ms. de Silva said the fine – less than 2% of Google’s profits in 2020 – was calculated based on the amount of revenues of companies in the ad technology sector that were affected by Google’s practices.
Write to Sam Schechner at [email protected]
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