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European Union goes after Google for abusing its ad tech power

Regulators want a level playing field so everyone has an equal chance

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Google has been served with another antitrust allegation by the European Union (EU). 

Just two years ago, EU regulators opened a probe into how Google handled user data. Now, it is alleging that Google abuses its power as the leader in the online advertising segment. By all indications, it will be the most sweeping investigation yet into that sector of the company.

The EU is focusing primarily on whether Google favors its own online display advertising technology services over offerings from other companies.

Antitrust investigations into U.S. companies are becoming old hat for the EU. It’s already gone after Apple for breaking antitrust rules and unfair dominance with its App Store policies. Amazon was also put under scrutiny for antitrust violations over how it uses its Marketplace data.

Creating a level playing field

The most recent Google investigation will take a hard look at whether the company is distorting competition by restricting third-party access to user data for advertising purposes on websites and mobile apps while reserving that data for its own purposes. Google currently has a distinct advantage in this competitive space because it provides advertising technology services that work as a hand-off between advertisers and publishers in order to display ads on websites or mobile apps.

“Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetise their online services. Google collects data to be used for targeted advertising purposes, it sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary. So Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising,” explained European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy.

Vestager said what’s important is that there’s a level playing field that affords every company the same opportunities.

“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,“ she said.

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