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France fines Google $268 million for unfair online ads treatment

Laptop users silhouetted in front of illuminated Google sign
Exhibitors work on laptop computers in front of an illuminated Google sign at an industrial fair in Hanover, Germany.
(Jens Meyer / Associated Press)

France’s antitrust watchdog decided Monday to fine Google 220 million euros ($268 million) for abusing its “dominant position” in the online advertising business — an unprecedented move, the body said.

Practices used by Google “are particularly serious because they penalize Google’s competitors” in certain markets and publishers of mobile sites and apps, the statement by the French Competition Authority said.

“The authority recalls that a company in a dominant position is subject to a particular responsibility, that of not undermining,” the statement said.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., did not dispute the facts and opted to settle, proposing changes, the statement said.

The head of the authority, Isabelle de Silva, said the decision was unprecedented.

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“[It’s] the first decision in the world to look into complex algorithmic auctions processes through which online display advertising works,” she said.

A European Union court has overturned a ruling that said a tax deal between Amazon and the Luxembourg government amounted to illegal state support.

The fine, along with Google’s commitments to make changes, “will make it possible to reestablish a level playing field for all players, and the ability for publishers to make the most of their advertising space,” De Silva said in the Competition Authority’s statement.

Google France’s legal director, Maria Gomri, said in a blog post Monday that Google had been collaborating for the last two years with the French watchdog on issues surrounding ad technology, notably the editors’ platform Google Ad Manager. She wrote that commitments made during negotiations would “facilitate use by editors of data and our tools with other ad technologies.”

After tests in the months ahead, changes will be deployed more broadly, “some on a worldwide scale,” Gomri said.

The French authority’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., French newspaper group Le Figaro and Belgium-based Rossel La Voix. Le Figaro later withdrew its complaint.

The world’s richest countries signed an agreement to confront tax avoidance and make sure giant tech companies pay their fair share.

U.S. tech giants have been facing intensifying scrutiny in Europe and elsewhere over their business practices.

Germany became the latest country to launch an investigation of Google, using increased powers to scrutinize digital giants. The German competition watchdog said Friday that it was examining whether contracts for news publishers using Google’s News Showcase, a licensing platform launched last fall, include “unreasonable conditions.”

European Union regulators have also charged Apple with stifling competition in music streaming, and accused Amazon of using data from independent merchants to unfairly compete against them with its own products. They are informally investigating Google’s data practices for advertising purposes.


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