Google agrees to alter ad practices after France imposes fine

Alphabet’s Google agreed to make changes to some of its widely-used online advertising services under an unprecedented settlement with France’s antitrust watchdog released on Monday.

The authority also fined the Mountain View, California-based company 220 million euros ($267.48 million) after a probe found it abused its market power in the intricate ad business online, where some of its tools have become almost essential for large publishers.

The French watchdog’s decision is an attempt to rebalance the power struggle over online ads in favour of publishers, which held sway in the business in the pre-Internet era, but lost considerable ground with the rise of Google and Facebook.

The watchdog said the decision opens the way for publishers who felt disadvantaged to seek damages from Google. Many publishers globally have expressed unhappiness over ad practices employed by the tech giants.

The French competition authority’s investigation focused on the tools Google offers publishers online to sell and manage online ads.

The settlement with Google shows the firm is ready bend to antitrust pressure and make operational changes to some of its most popular ad business tools, whose success relies on the trove of data it has amassed over the years.

The watchdog found that Google Ad Manager, the firm’s ad management platform for large publishers favoured AdX, its own online ad marketplace, where publishers sell space to advertisers in real-time.

It did so notably by providing AdX strategic data such as the winning bidding prices.

The watchdog also said Google AdX offered Google Ad Manager superior interoperability features than for rival so-called sell-side platforms (SSP), the crucial technology that allows publishers to manage advertising spaces available for purchase, fill them with ads and receive revenue.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google offered commitments to improve the interoperability of Google Ad Manager services with third-party ad server and ad space sales platform, the watchdog said.