The European Commission (EC) has announced that it has filed a formal antitrust complaint against Google for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the online advertising market. The complaint, which follows a two-year investigation, accuses Google of restricting access to user data for advertising purposes on websites and apps, while reserving such data for its own use.
Elsewhere, the Commission also alleges that Google has imposed contractual restrictions on third-party websites and apps that prevent them from using rival online advertising services. According to the Commission, these practices harm competition and innovation in the online advertising industry, which is worth more than 200 billion euros per year in the EU.
The Commission's executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy, said: “We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack. A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain. Fair competition is important — both for advertisers to reach consumers on publishers' sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers, to generate revenues and funding for content. We will also be looking at Google's policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition.”
Google has rejected the allegations, saying that it offers users more choice and control over their data, and that it faces strong competition from other players in the online advertising market.
The company said in a statement: “Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day. They choose them because they're competitive and effective. We will continue to engage constructively with the European Commission to answer their questions and demonstrate the benefits of our products to European businesses and consumers.”
Google's Consistent Problems with EU Regulators
If the Commission finds that Google has violated EU antitrust rules, it could impose a fine of up to 10% of its annual global turnover, which amounted to 147 billion euros in 2020. It could also order Google to stop its anti-competitive practices and restore effective competition in the market.
This is not the first time that Google has faced antitrust scrutiny from the EU. The company has already been fined a total of 8.25 billion euros by the Commission. Google has often been at the center of action from the European Commission (EC). Last September, the company was forced to pay €4.1 Billion for restricting Android OEMs and networks to boost its own services.
In 2019, Google was hit with a $1.69 billion fine by the bloc for blocking competition growth to promote its own AdSense platform. The company was forced to pay $2.7 billion for breaching competition laws around its shopping search results. In 2018, Google was fined $5 billion by regulators in Europe. The Commission says the fine regards three restrictions Google placed on Android device OEMs.
Google is not the only one to face regulatory sanctions. Facebook has fallen foul of lawmakers before, including in 2018 when the company changed its privacy principles to avoid an investigation by regulators. In April, Microsoft separated its Teams solution from the Office productivity suite to appease the EC and avoid regulatory action.