Google’s ad money machine faces EU antitrust attack
Fresh set of charges look at US giant’s power over advertising technology.
The European Union’s antitrust sheriffs are preparing to hit Google where it hurts most, with a fresh set of antitrust charges over advertising technology.
Google is expected to get a statement of objections that lays out a new European Commission case looking at whether it may have unfairly favored its own online display advertising technology to the detriment of rivals, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the case.
The move marks a big step in a fourth probe into the U.S. online search giant, potentially hitting at the heart of its advertising money-making machine. Google plays a key role in online advertising, collecting the data that helps advertisers target ads, selling advertising space and providing the technology that helps to match advertisers with publishers who want to sell space.
EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in 2021 that the company "is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising." The Commission said at the time that advertising spending was worth some €20 billion in 2019 and is a key source of revenue for publishers to allow them to fund free online content.
Over the last week, EU officials have made urgent appeals to Google’s ad tech rivals — including online publishers and advertisers — to submit nonconfidential evidence for their case. The move usually comes shortly before the EU sends a statement of objections, a formal step that raises the risk of fines of up to 10 percent of annual revenue.
The latest Google case stems from a probe opened in June 2021 that examined how Google may have restricted rivals’ access to user data for online advertising and reserved the data for its own use. It follows €8 billion in EU antitrust fines for the company over the past decade.
The European Publishers Council, an industry association that includes the New York Times, the Guardian and POLITICO’s owner Axel Springer, filed a complaint with the EU over Google’s advertising business in February 2022 “in a bid to break the ad tech stranglehold Google currently has over press publishers, and all other businesses in the ad tech ecosystem.”
The Commission’s investigation expanded in September 2022 to take on new evidence from a Portuguese investigation. A parallel probe into Google’s deal with Meta as part of the Open Bidding program was dropped in late 2022.
Google is still fighting in the EU courts against previous fines, including a record €4.34 billion penalty for how it runs its Android mobile operating system that judges trimmed down in September.
The U.K. is also probing Google’s online ad practices. France fined Google €220 million in 2021 for favoring its own services in online advertising following a push from publishers News Corp, France’s Le Figaro and Belgian media group Rossel.
Neither Google nor the European Commission immediately responded to POLITICO’s request for comment.