The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether Google has broken the competition rules by favoring its online advertising services in the so-called “ad tech” supply chain, to the detriment of advertising technology service providers, advertisers and online publishers. The formal investigation will specifically examine whether Google is distorting competition by restricting third party access to user data for advertising purposes on websites and apps, while reserving that data for its own use.

Verstager: We want to understand if Google has made competition in ad technologies more difficult

Competition manager Margrethe Vestager indicated that “online advertising services are at the heart of the model by which Google and publishers monetize their online services. Google collects data to be used for targeted advertising purposes, sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary. Hence it is present in almost all levels of the supply chain for online advertising. We are concerned that Google has made competition in ad technologies more difficult. A level playing field is essential for everyone in the supply chain. Fair competition is important – both for advertisers to reach consumers on publisher sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers, generate revenue and finance for content. We will also review Google’s user tracking policies to make sure they are in line with fair competition. ‘

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Survey focuses on “display” advertising

The Commission indicates that many publishers rely on online display advertising to fund free online content for consumers. This is a type of online advertising in which the ad (a banner) is shown on a target web page. In 2019, expenditure on display advertising in the EU was estimated at around 20 billion euros. Google provides several advertising technology services that act as an intermediary between advertisers and publishers to display ads on websites or mobile apps. The Commission’s investigation will focus on ‘display’ advertising in which Google offers a range of services to both advertisers and publishers. As part of its in-depth investigation, the Commission will in particular examine the obligation to use the services of Google Display & Video 360 (“DV360”) and / or Google Ads to purchase online display ads on YouTube; the obligation to use Google Ad Manager to serve online display ads on YouTube and potential restrictions placed by Google on how competing services of Google Ad Manager are able to serve online display ads on YouTube; the apparent favor of the “ad exchange” of Google “AdX” of DV360 and / or Google Ads and the potential favor of DV360 and / or Google Ads of AdX; the restrictions placed by Google on the ability of third parties, such as advertisers, publishers or competing online display advertising intermediaries, to access the identity or user behavior data available for Google advertising intermediation services, including the Doubleclick ID ; Google’s announced plans to ban the placement of third-party “cookies” on Chrome and replace them with the “Privacy Sandbox” toolset, including the effects on online display advertising and online display advertising brokerage markets. Google adds Brussels announced its intention to stop making the advertising identifier available to third parties on smart Android mobile devices when a user forgoes personalized advertising and the effects on the online display advertising and online display advertising intermediation markets.

If ascertained, “the practices under investigation may violate competition rules on anti-competitive agreements between companies and / or abuse of dominant position.” The Commission will take into account the need to protect users’ privacy, in compliance with EU laws on the subject, such as the General Data Protection Regulation. Competition law and data protection laws must work hand in hand to ensure that display advertising markets operate on a level playing field where all market participants protect user privacy equally.

By Editor

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