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Google must pay €150 million fine to French Competition Authority, court orders

'Opaque and difficult' ad rules cost biz 20 hours of annual profit

Google has failed in its bid to dismiss a €150 million fine ordered by France's monopoly watchdog in 2019 for exploiting its position in the search advertising market, a court ruled on Thursday.

The sanction, equivalent to about £124.8 million or $163.2 million – or about 20 hours of the company's annual profits, based on its latest financial results filing [PDF] – was imposed by the French Competition Authority (FCA). The regulator criticized the search giant for "adopting opaque and difficult to understand operating rules for its Google Ads advertising platform and applying them in an unfair and haphazard manner."

Google vowed to appeal the fine, but lost its case after judges sided with the FCA.

The Autorité began investigating Google after a French company, Gibmedia, complained it was suddenly blocked from running advertisements via Google Ads without warning. Google claimed Gibmedia was breaking rules by attempting to persuade people into signing up for services with dodgy subscription fees.

Google stands by its original decision to suspend Gibmedia. "People expect to be protected from exploitative and abusive ads and this is what our advertising policies are for," a company spokesperson told The Register

"Gibmedia was running ads for websites that deceived people into paying for services that are available for free, or at a lower cost, on official or largely accessible sources. We do not want these kinds of ads on our systems, so we suspended Gibmedia to protect consumers from harm."

Although Google will still have to fork over the €150 million, it did manage to reverse two orders issued by the watchdog, according to Reuters. One involved implementing a tool that would make it easier for French netizens to file complaints on Google Ads, and the other had asked the company to publish an annual report detailing how many websites had been suspended and what advertising rules they had broken.

"Following the FCA's original decision we already made some changes to make these policies even clearer and will now study the Court's ruling in detail and consider our next steps," the spokesperson added.

Google scrapped its previous Selling of Free Items Policy, which prohibited sellers from advertising free products and services with hidden costs. Instead, it updated a rule to make it clear that sellers cannot serve adverts promoting materials or services that can be directly obtained from a "government or delegated provider" – such as applying or renewing passports or obtaining licenses for things like fishing or owning guns. ®

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