A large storm cloud has just appeared in Google’s sky. The American giant is again under threat from Brussels. Margrethe Vestager, the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of competition, announced on Tuesday, in a press release, the opening of a formal investigation into the potentially anti-competitive practices of Google in the display of online advertisements (” display ”).
Google has reason to be concerned. Between 2017 and 2019, he has already suffered the wrath of Brussels on three occasions. The group had to pay a total of 8.4 billion euros in fines for its anti-competitive practices in price comparison sites (Google Shopping), mobile operating systems (Android) and, already, one of its advertising products, AdSense, (the “search” this time). A second time, Brussels is therefore aiming at the heart: more than 80% of the 183 billion dollars collected by Google in 2020 came from online advertising.
The Californian group, which dominates this fabulous market with its compatriot Facebook, is suspected of having favored its own services, to the detriment of rivals offering advertising intermediation tools, but also advertisers and publishers of websites or ‘mobile applications.
“Google collects data for targeted advertising purposes, it sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary. So Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising, ”notes Margrethe Vestager, who is worried that the group has taken the opportunity to restrict competition.
The European Commission ensures that the opening of a formal investigation does not prejudge its result. But she is very precise in her questions. Why is the sale of advertising space on YouTube reserved for Google’s auction tools and platforms (DV360, Google Ads, Ad Manager)? Why do Google’s advertiser-side platforms (DV360 and Google Ads) apparently favor their publisher-side equivalent (AdX) and vice versa? Why does Google alone reserve access to certain data on the identity and behavior of users, including DoubleClick ID?
“This survey is good news for advertisers, publishers and intermediary solution providers in the sector because Google’s monopoly situation is hurting competition and innovation across the display value chain”, underlines Arnaud Créput, boss of the French firm Smart Adserver.
The French precedent
This vertical integration of Google’s various advertising services has already earned the group two weeks ago a historic conviction by the French Competition Authority (ADLC). Beyond the 220 million euros fine, quite derisory on the scale of the American giant, this decision indeed forces the group to further compartmentalize some of its advertising products.
It also opens the right to compensation for competitors and publishers harmed by Google’s illegal practices. Finally, and President Isabelle de Silva did not hesitate to point out, the French sanction may motivate other competition authorities to look into the actions of Google in their respective markets.
Especially since the French antitrust had deliberately limited its field of investigation to the tools offered to publishers (SSP) without looking at what was happening on the side of advertisers (DSP) or YouTube advertising spaces. “The ADLC preferred to focus on subjects where the file was already strong enough to hit hard and fast”, decrypts Arnaud Créput.
Future projects on the radar
Through the broader spectrum of its investigation, and the larger market it protects, the European Commission therefore represents a major danger for Google. Especially since it is not only interested in past practices. Brussels specifies that two future Google projects are on its radar.
On the one hand, it preempts the subject of the end announced by Google of the sharing of mobile advertising identifiers on Android. On the other hand, it will look into “Privacy Sandbox”, the tool which should compensate for the disappearance of third-party cookies in Chrome, Google’s browser.
After the British antitrust launched an investigation into this matter, Google officially pledged not to receive any preferential treatment in this context. “It is legitimate that people wonder if we are honest and cooperative, assured Dan Taylor, the boss of advertising activities of Google to the” Echoes “last Friday. The opportunity to express oneself officially and in a legally binding manner makes things easier ”. This oath was obviously not enough in Brussels to remove “Privacy Sandbox” from the list of its points of attention.