European Publisher's Council makes EU-wide complaint against Google's ad dominance

By: Rob Corbidge, 11 February 2022

EU publishing industry body joins the chorus of those opposed to the tech giant's majority control of the online advertising eco-system

Opposition to Google's overwhelming end-to-end control of much of the online advertising market has deepened still further, with the European Publishers Council (EPC) announcing it has filed a formal complaint with the European Commission "in a bid to break the ad tech stranglehold Google currently has over press publishers".

The EPC represents almost every major publishing in the EU, with an even wider international membership. 

EPC Chairman Christian Van Thillo said: “It is high time for the European Commission to impose measures on Google that actually change, not just challenge, its behaviour – behaviour that has caused and continues to cause considerable harm, not just to Europe’s press publishers, but to all advertisers and eventually consumers in the form of higher prices (including ad tech fees), less choice, less transparency and less innovation. 

Christian Van Thillo of the EPC

Christian Van Thillo of the EPC

"Competition authorities across the world have found that Google has restricted competition in ad tech, yet Google has been able to get away with minor commitments which do nothing to bring about any meaningful changes to its conduct. This cannot go on. The stakes are too high, particularly for the future viability of funding a free and pluralistic press. We call on the Commission to take concrete steps right now that will actually break the stranglehold that Google has over us all.”

The statement accompanying announcement of the complaint used the most explicit of language: 

"Google’s ad tech suite is rife with conflicts of interests, as Google represents the buyer and the seller in the same transaction, while also operating the auction house in the middle, and selling its own inventory. Far from managing its conflicts, Google has time and again taken advantage of its position to prioritize its own self-interests at the expense of the very customers it is supposed to serve."

Google saw $147 billion in revenue from its online advertising operations in 2020, placing it at the head of the US tech giants pack.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager launched an investigation into Google's digital advertising business last year. Google has already been fined €8 billion by the EC in the past few years for anti-competitive practices in three cases.

The EPC development came as the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) confirmed it has reached a deal with Google over its commitments relating the proposed removal of third-party cookies from Chrome, AKA the Privacy Sandbox proposals.

Google has given an unprecedented amount of ground to the CMA over the proposals, agreeing to, among others:

  • Involvement of the CMA and the ICO in the development and testing of the Privacy Sandbox proposals, to ensure they achieve effective outcomes for consumers to protect both competition and privacy;
  • Google will engage in a more transparent process than initially proposed, including engagement with third parties and publishing test results, with the option for the CMA to require Google to address issues raised by the CMA or third parties;
  • Google will not remove third-party cookies until the CMA is satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed. If the CMA is not satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed, the CMA may take further action (i.e. re-open its investigation, impose interim measures or proceed to a decision);
  • Commitments to restrict the sharing of data within its ecosystem to ensure that it doesn’t gain an advantage over competitors when third-party cookies are removed; and commitments to not self-preference its advertising services.