Google faces a sweeping European union probe into its advertising technology, barely two years after regulators shut down nearly a decade of investigations.
The European Commission said its case would assess whether the search giant breaches competition rules by favoring its own online display advertising technologies over rivals, according to a statement on Tuesday.
The investigation will also check if Google unfairly blocks rivals’ access to user data and scrutinize privacy changes that will phase out some cookies and data access for advertisers.
“We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief, said in the statement. “Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetize their online services.”
It’s the first time the EU has directly probed the black-box of online advertising where Google automatically calculates and offers ad space and prices to advertisers and publishers as a user clicks on a web page. Earlier EU probes focused on shopping search ads, mobile phone ads and advertising contracts.
Google said in an emailed statement that it would “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,” the company said. “They choose them because they’re competitive and effective.”
Digital advertising spending was around 20 billion euros ($24 billion) in the EU in 2019, the regulator said. EU fines are based on the value of sales and capped at 10% of yearly revenue. Google has previously been fined more than $9 billion by the EU.
The EU probe will cover several parts of Google’s advertising business:
- The requirement to use Google’s services Display & Video 360 — or DV360 — or Google Ads to buy display ads on YouTube
- The requirement to use Google Ad Manager to serve online display ads on YouTube and potential curbs on how rival services can show ads on YouTube
- The “apparent favoring” of Google’s ad exchange AdX by DV360 and Google Ads and the reverse
- Restrictions on advertisers or publishers to see data about user identity or behavior. That information can be viewed by Google’s own ad intermediation services, including DoubleClick ID
- Google’s plans to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome and replace them with its Privacy Sandbox initiative
- Google’s plans to stop access to the advertising identifier on Android devices when a user opts out of personalized ads