Google faces fines of up to $25.4b in UK and EU ad tech case

Legal cases in Europe claim anticompetitive conduct, which Google denies

Google owner Alphabet could face claims of up to €25 billion ($25.4 billion) in a case alleging anticompetitive conduct in relation to ad tech in Europe.

Law firm Geradin Partners yesterday announced it would launch action on behalf of publishers who have allegedly suffered harm from Google's approach to ad tech, although it didn't reveal the text of the complaints.

The legal eagles said they'd launched two parallel damages actions in the UK (via the Competition Appeal Tribunal) and the Netherlands, covering the European Economic Area, under EU law. Funding for both actions has been secured from Harbour, a top-tier litigation funder.

The damages suits will claim that Google deprived the publishers of billions of euros in revenues through anticompetitive conduct. For many in the media industry, it would be too expensive to sue a gigantic company like Google. Without this action, these damages would go unaddressed, the lawyers said.

Damien Geradin, a partner in the firm, said in a statement: "Publishers, including local and national news media who play a vital role in our society, have long been harmed by Google's anticompetitive conduct. It is time that Google owns up to its responsibilities and pays back the damages it has caused to this important industry. That is why today we are announcing these actions across two jurisdictions to obtain compensation for EU and UK publishers."

A spokesperson for Google, meanwhile, told the Guardian: "Google works constructively with publishers across Europe – our advertising tools, and those of our many adtech competitors, help millions of websites and apps fund their content, and enable businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers. These services adapt and evolve in partnership with those same publishers. This lawsuit is speculative and opportunistic. When we receive the complaint, we'll fight it vigorously."

The law firm was also behind a June 2021 action in France, where it filed a complaint on behalf of News Corp in the summer of 2019. In the case, the French Competition Authority imposed a fine of €220 million (c $220.02 million) on Google for abusing its dominant position, ruling that Google's ad tech practices were in breach of EU competition law. The Autorité de la concurrence ruled at the time that Google granted preferential treatment to its own proprietary technologies offered under its Google Ad Manager brand.

This was "to the detriment of its competitors and publishers," the French regulator said.

Isabelle de Silva, the Autorité de la concurrence president, said the ruling was significant because it was "the first decision in the world to look into complex algorithmic auctions processes through which online display advertising works."

Google responded by saying it planned to make some "changes" to its ad technology.

In a blog, Maria Gomri, legal director at Google France, noted the company was "committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products." ®

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