“We suspect that Google may have made it difficult for competing online advertising services to compete in the field of advertising technology,” Margrethe Vestager, Vice-President of the Commission, is quoted in a press release. It announces formal antitrust proceedings against Google. The European competition watchdog is checking whether Google has violated applicable law with its advertising business and whether it has given preference to itself.
The focus is on Google’s activities in the ad tech industry, i.e. the entire online advertising business. The aim is to clarify whether Google has “distorted competition by restricting third-party access to user data for advertising on websites and in apps and by reserving this data for its own use”. The problem lies in Google’s multiple role as a platform, ad seller and dealer. The Commission wants to look at those areas in which Google offers services to both advertisers and publishers.
Specifically, it is about advertisements on Google’s subsidiary and video platform Youtube and the question of whether Google services have to be used to advertise there, and whether other ad managers are restricted when it comes to delivering advertisements. In addition, the extent to which Google restricts the possibilities of third parties to access user data and usage behavior is being investigated while this data is available to Google’s own advertising services.
Many fronts against Google
The investigation also includes all Google activities that are collected under the umbrella of the privacy sandbox, i.e. plans to replace third-party cookies with other methods, such as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) – and the effects on that Advertising business can have. In addition to the commission, there has already been sharp criticism of the plans from other companies and activists. Google had also announced that it would no longer pass on the advertising ID of Android devices to third parties, and users would deactivate personalized advertising. The question now is whether Google will continue to receive the identifier and whether this will change the market.
The EU Commission also announcesto give priority to the investigation. The background to this is the EU regulations on anti-competitive agreements and the abuse of a dominant position. In three proceedings at EU level, Google has already had to pay fines totaling 8.25 billion US dollars. It was about the use of Android and a disadvantage in the shopping results. Whereby the penalties brought Google only to a limited extent to a change in behavior.
According to the “Cartel Ordinance, when the procedure is initiated by the Commission, the Member State’s competition authorities are no longer responsible” – the Federal Cartel Office had just targeted Google after Facebook and Amazon in order to examine its dominant position and data collection, the background being newly introduced digital regulations that enable intervention .