In the first major amid possibly many such fines coming Google’s way, the company has been fined 150 million euros($166 million) by French competition watchdog. The tech giant has been accused of abusing its dominance in the online search advertising market.
The regulator said that Google’s advertising rules were “opaque and inconsistent”. Said decision was announced today after a long investigation in the company’s online ad sector. It was also said that the company applies its rules in “an unfair and random manner”.
As is usually the case in such fines, Google has said that the company will appeal the decision.
The decision was in accordance to the search ads which appear when a user searches for something. The rules which apply to these ads were found to be problematic. Since Google owns a dominant position in the online search market, with more than 90% of searches being carried out on the platform, the monopoly puts requirement on the company to define ad rules in a transparent and non discriminatory manner.
However, Google violated these terms and failed to live up to that standard. The watchog said that Google’s wording of ad laws was “not based on any precise and stable definition, which gives Google full latitude to interpret them according to situations”.
The investigation started after a company called Gibmedia accused Google of suspending its Google Ads account without a notice. Subsequently, a Google spokesperson said that Gibmedia was running ads for websites that deceived people into paying for services on unclear billing terms.
The spokesperson said,” We do not want these kinds of ads on our systems, so we suspended Gibmedia and gave up advertising revenue to protect consumers from harm,”.
However, the watchdog said that while Google’s objective of consumer protection was fair, the company could not treat advertisers in a differentiated manner.
“Google cannot suspend the account of an advertiser on the grounds that it would offer services that it considers contrary to the interests of the consumer, while agreeing to reference and accompany on its advertising platform sites that sell similar services,” it writes.
The decision needs Google to organize mandatory annual training for Google Ads support staff, apart from the fine.
Google must also provide an annual report to the watchdog. The report should specify the complaints made against them by French users, the number of sites and accounts suspended, the nature of the rules violated and the terms of the suspension.
The company also has to make a list of decisions it is going to take to implement these changes. Said list must be submitted to the watchdog within two months.
Six months later, Google needs to submit another report about the decisions and changes that have actually been implemented.
Google plans to appeal the decision. In a blog post, Google France’s legal director wrote,”The scrutiny of regulators can lead to improvements in our products and the policies that govern them. However, today’s decision would limit our ability to promptly and decisively tackle abusive online practices. While we have long worked constructively with regulators, and will continue to do so, in this case, we disagree with the conclusion and we plan to appeal.”