Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) United States-based Google is likely to face a new set of European Union’s antitrust charges in the coming year over its digital advertising business, after previously being fined three times for breaching the bloc’s strict market competition regulations.
According to several sources contacted by Reuters, the European Commission will likely issue new charges against Google early next year in a case related to the tech giant’s adtech business.
The Commission initially launched an investigation in June 2021, suspecting that the company is getting an unfair market advantage over its competitors. While Google attempted to settle the case, sources close to the matter say the company’s proposed concessions were minor and very preliminary.
According to Dieter Paemen, a partner at Clifford Chance law firm which advised Google’s competitors in previous cases, the current case deals with the advantageous position Google has in the advertising business.
“Google is operating on multiple sides of the advertising transaction and giving both publishers and advertisers a raw deal,” Paemen told Reuters. Google’s advertising model consists of displaying ads in its search engine results – it’s primary source of revenue – but also of selling ads on websites and apps of outside partners.
Long time coming
The latter model sees Google acting as an intermediary between publishers and advertisers, with both ultimately allowing Google to profit from their respective business models. “It’s been a long time coming – advertisers and publishers have been up in arms about Google’s ad-tech conduct for many years,” said Paemen, commenting on the likely charges.
For Google, the case could lead to its fourth multi-billion fine from the Commission since 2017. Previously, Google was fined 2.42 billion euro over promoting its Google Shopping service over results of its competitors. The fine was upheld by the General Court of the EU in November last year, though the company can still appeal to the Court of Justice.
Google was also fined 4.3 billion euro in 2018 for taking unlawful actions to maintain its dominant position in the mobile market, after which the company implemented a series of changes to its Google Play Store, and was preparing to offer EU customers additional options regarding the search engine and browser they want on their phones at the time of purchase.
In 2019, Google was fined 1.49 billion euro for abusive practices in online advertising, specifically for forcing its direct partners to exclusively use Google’s AdSense if they wanted to licence it, and to accept Google’s restrictions on where and how to display competitors’ ads. Google also appealed this decision to the General Court.
Even though the Commission dismissed Google’s initial concessions in the most recent case, the company could still potentially avert the charges if it expands and amends its proposed concessions. This could potentially take place after Google receives a Statement of Objections, at which point the company could take more precise steps to answer to specific objections listed in the formal document.