France fines Google $167M for ad dominance abuse

France fines Google $167M for ad dominance abuse
France fines Google $167M for ad dominance abuse

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Decision first penalty imposed by French antitrust watchdog against US tech giant

France's competition watchdog on Friday fined Google 150 million euros ($167 million) for abusing its dominant market position by applying opaque and unpredictable rules on its Google Ads advertising platform.

It is the first penalty imposed by the French antitrust watchdog against the US tech company, which faces a growing number of investigations into its business practices on both sides of the Atlantic. Google said it would appeal.

The French regulator said it had found Google had a lack of objectivity and predictability in defining the rules on Google Ads, the gateway for advertisers that wish to appear in the sponsored section of search results.

With a market share of around 90 per cent in the online search business, Google has the responsibility to offer a fair access to Google Ads, the regulator said.

"One of the great principles of competition law is that with great power comes great responsibility," the head of the authority, Isabelle de Silva, said at a news conference. "It's also Spider-Man's motto," she added, referring to the fictional superhero.

The authority's investigation took four years and followed a complaint filed by Gibmedia, a French company that manages a range of websites offering weather forecasts, corporate data and directories. 

Gibmedia had accused Google of having suspended its Google Ads account without notice.

The regulator said that by changing its terms of use and rules at will, Google had abused its market power.

"The way the rules are applied give Google a power of life or death over some small businesses that live only on this kind of services," de Silva said.

No clarity

Google in response alleged that Gibmedia was running ads for websites that deceived people into paying for services on unclear billing terms.

"We do not want these kinds of ads on our systems, so we suspended Gibmedia and gave up advertising revenue to protect consumers from harm," Google said in statement.

When contacted by Reuters, Gibmedia did not provide any immediate comment. In September, Google agreed to pay close to one billion euros to French authorities to settle a fiscal fraud probe that began four years ago.

In January, France's data protection watchdog had fined Google 50 million euros for breaching European Union online privacy rules.

The data protection watchdog stated in its January ruling that Google lacked transparency and clarity in the way it informed users about its handling of personal data, and had failed to properly obtain their consent for personalised ads.

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