Another fine for Google isn't big news - but changes to its French ad biz is

By: Rich Fairbairn, 02 June 2021

France turns the heat up on Google again, reportedly fining and forcing the search leader to modify its ad business in the country following an anti-trust investigation.

A proposed agreement between Google and the French Competition Authority (FCA) is being reported by the Wall Street Journal, as a combination of monetary fine and a commitment by Google to alter its entire ad business for France - a 'no fault' solution preferred by the US company.

It springs from a long-running French anti-trust investigation looking at Google's power over online ad bidding and sales, providing tools - the AdX auction house, and DFP used to sell the ad space - which boosted each other versus 3rd party auction houses. The two tools were combined into the single Google Ad Manager product in 2018.

The WSJ reports [paywall] that Google has agreed to remove 'obstacles' in its ad sales business to remove advantages over competitors. Additionally, it will make DFP work better with other ad platforms. The reported offer is under consideration by the FCA, which could reject it. 

Google has made no public statement specific to the case, but said: "Our third-party ad tech products work with both our partners’ and our competitors’ products, including over 700 advertiser platforms and 80 publisher platforms. We continue to take in feedback and make updates to better serve users and the wider ecosystem."

Parent company Alphabet Inc's ad businesses are under increasing scrutiny elsewhere, with UK regulators recently delving under the hood into how the online ad industry works, as well as in the US where 10 States are suing Google, who they accuse of running an illegal monopoly.

In December 2019, the FCA also fined Google €150 million for market abuse and applying rules unfairly or randomly.

UPDATE: June 7, 2021

The matter concluded with an eventual €220m fine, and indeed a pledge to change practices in the future.

FCA President Isabelle de Silva said: "Google used its vertically integrated business model in display advertising to gain an advantage over other competitors. This is the first investigation in the world that examines the display advertising space where Google is dominant, and the first time Google has agreed to a settlement with engagements. This case will be of interest to other regulators who are looking at the online ad market and technologies.”