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EU opens antitrust probe into Google's advertising unit

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Key Points
  • The European Commission opened a new investigation into Google to assess whether the tech giant has favored its own online display ad technology services.
  • "We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack," EC Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said.
  • The Google investigation adds to a list of probes and fines that have taken place in the European market in recent years.

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A logo outside the Google Store Chelsea in New York, May 28, 2021.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, opened a new investigation into Google on Tuesday to assess whether the tech giant has favored its own online display ad technology services, and therefore breached antitrust rules.

"Google collects data to be used for targeted advertising purposes, it sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary. So Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising. We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack," European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

As part of the new probe, the commission will be assessing the restrictions that Google has placed on the ability of advertisers, publishers and other third parties to access data about user identity and user behavior.

A spokesperson for Google said via email: "Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day. They choose them because they're competitive and effective. We will continue to engage constructively with the European Commission to answer their questions and demonstrate the benefits of our products to European businesses and consumers."

The announcement marks the official start of a full assessment into how Google behaves in the advertising space with no set deadline for its completion. It also adds to a list of probes and fines that have taken place in the European market in recent years.

Earlier this month, the French competition authority fined Google 220 million euros ($262 million) for abusing its market power in the online ad industry.

The commission also imposed a 1.49 billion euro fine on Google in March 2019 for breaching antitrust rules. At the time, the Brussels-based institution said the U.S. tech giant had imposed restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites that prevented Google's rivals from placing their search ads on these websites.

Prior to this, the commission fined Google 4.34 billion euros in July 2018 for illegal practices regarding Android mobile devices. It also imposed a fine of 2.42 billion euros in 2017, saying that Google had abused its market dominance in its shopping services.

All of the three EU cases above are under appeal.