Google slapped with $268m fine in France over anti-trust case

The company was accused of using its dominant market position to unlawfully send business to its advertising server

A person on a scooter passes in front of the Google Store Chelsea in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 28, 2021. The Google Store will display and sell a variety of product such as Pixel phones, Nest smart home devices, Fitbit trackers, Pixelbooks, and more. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Google agreed to pay €220 million ($268m) to French authorities and said it will change the way its online advertising works to settle a 2019 anti-trust case that alleged the technology company abused its dominant position in the industry.

The company, owned by Alphabet, committed to improve the interoperability of its services with third-party servers and end provisions that favour Google, Autorité de la concurrence, France's national competition regulator, said in a statement on Monday.

The case stems from a complaint filed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, French newspaper Le Figaro and Belgian media group Rossel La Voix, which accused the California-based company of unlawfully sending business to its advertising server and its online-ad auction house.

"The decision sanctioning Google has a very special meaning because it is the first decision in the world … [looking] into complex algorithmic processes [and] auctions through which online display advertising works,” Isabelle de Silva, president of Autorité de la concurrence, said.

“The investigation revealed the processes by which Google, relying on its considerable dominant position, was favoured over its competitors on both ad servers and SSP [supply-side platform],” she added.

A supply-side platform is an advertising technology platform used to co-ordinate and manage the supply and distribution of ad inventories.

The anti-trust authority said Google granted “preferential treatment to its proprietary technologies” offered under the Google Ad Manager brand that affected its competitors and other publishers in the market.

The decision will restore a level playing field for all companies and the ability of publishers to make the most of their advertising space, it added.

Tech titans such as Google, Amazon and Facebook are increasingly facing regulatory scrutiny to change their monopolistic practices.

Google has previously faced trouble in France over various issues related to misleading advertising and the amount of tax it pays.

In February, it was fined $1.3m by French authorities for misleading consumers with its ratings of hotels and tourist destinations.

In September 2019, Google agreed to pay €945m to French tax authorities to settle a long-running tax dispute.

In March 2019, it was also fined €1.5 billion by the EU for practices deemed to be anti-competitive. This followed previous anti-trust disputes in 2017 and 2018 that led to the company being slapped with total fines of €6.8bn.

Last year, the US Department of Justice and 11 other states filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google for “unlawfully maintaining the monopolies in the market” for online searches and stifling competition in the process.

The lawsuit marked the biggest anti-trust case in a generation and claimed that Google entered into “exclusionary agreements” to maintain its monopoly in online searches and search advertising on the internet.

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