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EU opens antitrust probe into Google's advertising business

The European Commission will investigate whether the tech giant favours its own services at the expense of rival advertisers and publishers

Google is facing yet another antitrust investigation in Europe, with regulators launching a formal probe into the tech giant's lucrative digital advertising business. 

The European Commission (EC) on Tuesday announced that it will investigate whether Google violated the bloc's competition rules by favouring its own online display advertising technology services at the expense of rival publishers, advertisers and advertising technology services.

In particular, the investigation will examine whether Google is restricting third parties from accessing user data for advertising purposes while using such data for its own service.

The EU watchdog plans to scrutinise the company's plans to stop making the advertising identifier available to third parties on Android and its controversial move to replace third-party cookies in Chrome. It will also investigate whether advertisers are unfairly forced into using Google's services such as AdX, an ads exchange platform that allows users to bid for online advertising space in real-time. 

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager said: “Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetise their online services. 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.

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'We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack. A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain. Fair competition is important - both for advertisers to reach consumers on publishers' sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers, to generate revenues and funding for content. We will also be looking at Google's policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition.“

Google said in statement that it 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.”

“Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day,” a spokesperson added. “They choose them because they’re competitive and effective.”

News of this latest investigation comes just weeks after the French competition authority fined Google €220 million for abusing its market power in the online ad industry. It also comes just days after UK officials announced they were investigating both Apple and Google over whether their combined dominance of the mobile ecosystem could be harming both users and businesses.

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