European publishers call out Google for anti-competitive adtech

11 Feb 2022

Image: © Alena/Stock.adobe.com

The European Commission has been asked by publishers to restore competition in the adtech space disrupted by Google.

A group of major publishers has filed an antitrust complaint with the EU against Google relating to its adtech “stranglehold” over press publishers and related businesses.

The European Publishers Council (EPC) asked the European Commission today (11 February) to hold Alphabet-owned Google accountable for its anti-competitive conduct and impose remedies to restore conditions of effective competition in the adtech value chain.

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This is part of a long-running fight between publishers and Google over the company’s alleged restriction of competition in the adtech space, which is an important source of revenue for many news organisations and other media with a digital footprint.

The European Commission already opened a probe into Google’s advertising business last year, to investigate whether the company has prioritised its own online display advertising technology service at the expense of rivals and their ads. In 2019, the Commission fined Google €1.49bn for alleged abusive practices in online advertising.

The EPC is a trade body that has members including The Guardian, News UK, German publishing giant Axel Springer and Irish Independent owner MediaHuis.

The group has claimed that Google “embarked on a barrage of unlawful tactics to foreclose competition in adtech” since the search giant acquired online ad-tracking company DoubleClick in 2008. It also claimed that this strategy of eliminating competition has given Google a market share as high as 90pc or 100pc in the adtech space.

EPC chair Christian Van Thillo called on the Commission to “impose measures on Google that actually change, not just challenge, its behaviour”. He said the company’s practices have damaged Europe’s press publishers and advertisers as a whole through “higher adtech fees, less choice, less transparency and less innovation”.

The group claimed that Google is “rife with conflicts of interests” in its adtech suite by representing both the buyer and seller in the same transaction while also operating the auction house in the middle and selling its own inventory. It alleged that Google has taken advantage of its unique position to prioritise self-interest over the interests of the customers it serves.

“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,” Van Thillo added.

The EPC said that the European Commission is “uniquely positioned” to act on the complaint and that it can “leverage the findings” of other competition authorities that have called out Google for alleged malpractices in the adtech space, such as in France, Australia, the UK and US.

In response, Google has said that publishers benefit from its adtech services.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com