Google Fined €150 Million By France For Opaque Ad Rules

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France’s competition authority has fined Google 150 million euros (~$167 million) for “abusing its power” in the online search business. The authority has accused the web giant of placing opaque rules on Google Ads platform and changing them at will.

The French antitrust watchdog launched an investigation into Google's treatment of advertisers four years ago, following a complaint by a French online consulting company Gibmedia. The company had accused Google of suspending its Google Ads account without notice. The ruling by the French regulator also cites other examples of companies the US tech giant suspended without justification.

The regulator said Google changes its Google Ads terms of use and rules at will. The agency has ordered the company to clarify the rules for Google Ads. The company has also been asked to disclose its procedures for suspending accounts.

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“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 service,” said Isabelle de Silva, the head of the authority.

Google has a market share of around 90 percent in the online search business. “One of the great principles of competition law is that with great power comes great responsibility,” de Silva added, suggesting that Google has a responsibility to offer fair and equal access to Google Ads.

Google to appeal the decision

Google said in a statement that it would appeal the decision. The company said Gibmedia was "running ads for websites that deceived people into paying for services on unclear billing terms". Gibmedia's Google Ads account was suspended to protect consumers from harm, Google said.

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Gibmedia, meanwhile, has refuted the allegation. “Gibmedia has never been convicted of any deceptive practice and it’s unacceptable to see that Google, which has just been once again condemned for anti-competitive practices, has no other defense than to attack its victim,” said Hervé Lehman, Gibmedia’s lawyer.

This is not the first time Google has been fined by the French authorities this year, though it is the first penalty imposed by the French antitrust watchdog. In January, France’s data protection watchdog had fined the company 50 million euros (~$56 million) for breaching online privacy rules. Google was accused of lacking transparency in its handling of personal data of users.

Most recently, French authorities fined Google nearly 1 billion euros in September to settle a fiscal fraud probe that began four years ago. The settlement includes 465 million euros in back taxes and 500 million euro fines. Google has agreed to pay the penalty.

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Google is also facing several other antitrust investigations across Europe, as well as America.