ICYMI: “How France tamed Google”

Yesterday, Wired UK published an article titled, “How France tamed Google” detailing how the French Competition Agency (FCA) took on Google through a series of fines in response to the tech giant rigging ad prices against news publishers to reduce their revenue, punishing publishers that don’t use Google products, and favoring their own products to take further hold of the market. The monetary fines, totaling nearly $855 million this year, may be a drop in the bucket to Google, but this small victory could have wide-ranging consequences for Google and other tech monopolies in the long run.

Google’s dominance has been deeply damaging to journalists across the globe, and as American regulators and policymakers consider strategies that can help contain Google’s power, the French approach offers some lessons that could help them develop an effective roadmap.

Key Excerpts from the column: 

  • The FCA’s ruling revolves around technologies within Google’s Ad Manager – a platform that helps companies buy and sell the adverts that are shown on billions of web pages. The FCA took particular issue with two elements of the Ad Manager system: the DoubleClick For Publishers ad server and a sales platform known as SSP AdX. The first allows the owners of websites to sell the adverts sitting around the content they publish, while the latter is involved in controlling the complex split-second auction process.
  • Unlike three European Commission competition investigations, which fined Google more than €8.2bn, the company isn’t challenging the FCA’s ruling in court. In fact, Google didn’t dispute the FCA’s findings and proposed changes to its advertising technology itself. 
  • At the same time as the FCA announced its advertising technology decision, Google France legal director Maria Gomri published a blog post explaining how the company would change Ad Manager in response. The company says it is improving access to data for its competitors, making Ad Manager more flexible and “reaffirming our promise” not to use data in ways that its rivals can’t reproduce.
  • Paul Bannister, co-founder of ad management firm CafeMedia, says it is not yet clear what some of the agreed changes will mean but they could be “quite major” – especially if they are applied internationally. He says that more data being made available around minimum bids – the lowest price paid to win an ad slot – could make for a “more competitive environment”. Moving some parts of the process outside of Google’s AdX platform, Bannister adds, could also give publishers more choice.
  • Fining Big Tech, while also asking it to make changes internationally, is likely to become a popular regulatory tactic.
  • As to why Google agreed to make such wholesale changes globally? Cowen says it likely comes down to the company pragmatically complying with the strongest enforcement of competition laws – or risk facing different challenges elsewhere.
  • Slowly but surely, and after years of inaction, regulators are finally finding their stride. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority recently struck a deal with Google around its controversial Privacy Sandbox cookie replacement technology, called FLoC. The two organisations agreed the changes should not go ahead without further commitments from Google. Weeks later Google postponed the changes and announced a detailed timeline for changes to be implemented – showing early regulatory intervention can make a difference.

Please reach out if you’re interested in discussing further, and read the full clip at Wired UK here: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-france-fines