- Google has agreed to pay $ 267 million to settle a French antitrust case accusing it of abusing its dominance of the online advertising market.
- Google has also said it will make changes to its adtech, some of which will spread to the world.
- Attorney Damien Geradin, who filed the French complaint, explained why the case would have a global impact.
- See more stories on the Insider activity page.
Google this week has agreed to pay the French competition regulator a fine of 220 million euros (267 million dollars) and said it would change its adtech to resolve an antitrust complaint that said it had abused its dominant position in the online advertising industry.
The Competition Authority, the French antitrust watchdog, found that Google Ad Manager’s ad server, which manages ads for large publishers, has unfairly favored its AdX online advertising market over online advertising auctions, as well as providing information about competitors’ advertising offerings. . The survey also found that Google’s AdX offers superior interoperability features to Google Ad Manager than it did to rival the advertising markets.
Google, which does not attract the case, he said Monday would make changes to its adtech, including offering increased access to auction data and improving interoperability between Ad Manager and third-party ad servers. Before making those changes in France, the company said it will launch some of the changes in the world.
Damien Geradin, an antitrust lawyer who filed the original 2019 complaint and represented News Corp. in the case – but said he was not speaking on behalf of the publisher – he said the result in France would set a precedent for pending adtech antitrust lawsuits Google faces in the United States and elsewhere in Europe. (French newspaper publisher Le Figaro and the Belgium-based Rossel group also joined the initial complaint, although Le Figaro later withdrew)
In an interview, slightly edited for clarity and length, Geradin said that although the remedies offered by Google to resolve the case are of limited scope, he predicted that other global competition authorities would take the results in France while investigating. other elements of its advertising activity – and potentially imposing harsher, more structural punishments on the technology giant.
Google did not immediately return a request for comment. “While we believe we offer valuable services and compete on merit, we are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products.” Google said in a blog post announcing its proposed changes following the French case.
This case was brought to France. Why should people outside France pay attention?
This is the first time that a competition authority [has found] that Google has abused its dominant position in the adtech market, which of course is a core market for Google.
The results are crystal clear. The language used by the Authority is quite strict and is significant in itself because Google does not dispute the results.
This is high [automated] market where you have companies all over the globe trading. Obviously the impact will go beyond France.
If you look at the remedies, Google has already stated that they will implement them more widely. Technically it would be very difficult to basically separate France from the rest of the world – it is highly integrated. If the French Authority found abuse of a dominant position in its investigation then I don’t think Google could say, “Well, it’s all different in Germany, or it’s all different in the United States.” It’s exactly the same.
The French authority is the first to rule on these practices but there are investigations before the European Commission, in the United Kingdom, in Italy, in the causes in the United States. All these authorities will look very carefully at the French decision. They will certainly take this into account in their own investigations. It basically shows the way to others.
How did the ADLC conclude that a fine of 220 million euros was the right amount?
It is always based on a variety of factors: the nature of the infringement, the duration of the infringement, the turnover concerned.
In a case like this, the fact that this is a settlement and that Google has offered some remedies has probably had an impact on the fine. If the case had gone to the end with an infringement decision, the fine would probably have been twice as high.
Some people in the adtech community have said that concessions are quite limited in scope. It affects only what is known in the industry as the “sales side” and focuses only on a limited number of mechanisms that Google used. Are they missing the big picture?
Concessions are not so significant. They are certainly less demanding than they would have been in an infringement decision. That’s probably the reason why Google was willing to do them. I would be surprised if Google suddenly materially changes the way it does in its adtech sector.
Often these remedies look good on paper, but when you look at the details, you realize that very often they can be leak mechanisms. Or sometimes the language is not very clear and therefore gives Google opportunities to have flexibility as to how they interpret the remedies. Also, let’s say, it’s a horribly complicated market.
It is extremely difficult to monitor these kinds of markets because small changes in the algorithm can make a big difference. That was the story of this case.
Google has always said that they were not discriminatory, that they were fair and that they brought a lot of value to the ecosystem. But what they did was to always change the system in a way that was good for them and bad for others.
I think we would be naive to think that they will suddenly find God and become completely neutral and re-establish competition in the market. That is why other inquiries remain very important.
Causes in the United States are much more likely to make a difference because typically the remedies that could result from these processes could be, for example, of a structural nature that requires some separation.
Do you think this decision sets a precedent for some of the other cases against Google across Europe and the United States and that they could go much further? The Texas complaint, for example, also goes into some detail about the activities of Google’s advertising server and header offer – but it also covers such a large area of its activity.
Many scenarios can happen. Some authorities may say he has no intention of repeating what the French have done. These infractions are clear. So they can take discoveries on board but they may already require rigorous remedies.
A bag of new clothes has come out of the process in Texas. For example, this prima facie anti-competitive agreement between Google and Facebook – the so-called Blue Jedi agreement. There is still a reservoir of practices that have not been fully analyzed by competition authorities.
The French decision was essentially focused on sales. The reason is that the complainants were editors. There are also issues on the buying side. It is another range of practices that still need to be analyzed to see if they are anticompetitive or not. If they are, there may be remedies that focus on the buying side. There is also a lot to do for other competition authorities.