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'Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain' for online ads: It's time for a competition probe, says EU

French regulator can probably help having already fined megacorp €220m

The European Commission (EC) reckons it's zeroing in on long-running concerns that Google may have an unfair advantage when it comes to online advertising.

The commission today opened a formal antitrust investigation to figure out if Google has "violated EU competition rules… to the detriment of competing providers of advertising technology services, advertisers and online publishers."

In an announcement, the commission said it would examine whether "Google is distorting competition by restricting access by third parties to user data for advertising purposes on websites and apps, while reserving such data for its own use."

In a statement, EC executive VP Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, explained that 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," said Vestager.

"So Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising.

"We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack."

The probe will set out to look at all the stages in the ad supply chain and focus on Google's policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition. And it seems the commission may already have a head start.

Earlier this month Google confirmed it planned to change the way it operates its advertising business after the internet giant was slapped with a €220m (£189m) fine by French competition regulators for abusing its dominant position.

Publishing the decision, the Autorité de la concurrence ruled that Google granted preferential treatment to its own proprietary technologies offered under the Google Ad Manager brand "to the detriment of its competitors and publishers," the French regulator said.

Last November, the UK government announced plans to set up a Digital Markets Unit (DMU) to level the advertising playing field currently dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook although exactly how this might be achieved remains "fuzzy".

When asked to comment on today's announcement, a spokesperson for Google said: "Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day. They choose them because they're competitive and effective. We will continue to engage constructively with the European Commission to answer their questions and demonstrate the benefits of our products to European businesses and consumers." ®

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