France fines Google $267 million for abusing its ad market dominance

Google has been fined €220 million ($267 million) by the French Competition Authority for favoring its own digital advertising services over rivals. The search giant has agreed to pay the fine and also proposed a few major changes to its ad technology. The announcement comes less than a month after Italy fined Google €100 million for unfairly restricting access to Android Auto to an EV charging app.

The French watchdog has alleged that Google has been grating “preferential treatment” to its DFP ad server, which lets publishers sell their advertising space, and its sales platform SSP AdX, which allows them to sell their advertising inventory to advertisers. It further claims that Google’s practices have penalized competitors in the online advertising market and also “weakened” many publishers.

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Isabelle de Silva, President of the French Competition Authority, said in a statement:

The investigation, carried out particularly quickly, made it possible to reveal the processes by which Google, relying on its considerable dominant position on advertising servers for sites and applications, favored itself over its competitors on both advertising servers and SSP platforms. These very serious practices have penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position.

As part of the settlement with French authorities, Google is making changes to its advertising technology to make it possible for publishers to offer increased flexibility to publishers. Publishers often use Header Bidding to run an auction among multiple ad exchanges to help choose an ad exchange. Google says it is working on a solution to provide equal access to data related to outcomes from the Ad Manager auction to all buyers that a publisher works with — including the “minimum bid to win” data from previous auctions.

Maria Gomri, Legal Director, Google France, wrote in a blog post:

While we believe we offer valuable services and compete on the merits, we are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products. That’s why, as part of an overall resolution of the FCA’s investigation, we have agreed on a set of commitments to make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies. We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally.

The other major change involves allowing publishers to set their preferred pricing rules for ads in sensitive categories in Google Ad Manager and “implementing product changes that improve interoperability between Ad Manager and third-party ad servers.”

Finally, Google has reaffirmed its promise not to use data from rival sell-side platforms (SSPs) to optimize bids. It will also not share any bid from Ad Manager auction participants with other auction participants before the auction is completed.

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