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June 22, 2021

The European Union on Tuesday opened a formal antitrust probe into Google to inspect whether the company violated the bloc’s competition rules by favoring its own online advertising technology over competing providers, in a move that follows a similar probe against Facebook earlier this month.

 

The investigation will examine whether Google is distorting competition by restricting third parties from accessing user data for advertising purposes while using such data for its own service, according to a statement released by the European Commission.

European Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of competition policy, Margrethe Vestager, said regulators are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online ad services to compete.

Vestager also noted that the investigation will look into Google’s policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition.

The investigation will also look into the obligation to use Google’s ad manager when serving ads on YouTube, its plan to block third party cookies on Chrome and its plans to restrict access of advertising identifier information to third parties on Android devices where a user has chosen to opt-out of personalized advertising.

The commission says it will take into account the need to protect user privacy under the EU’s data protection law but noted that it must ensure that all advertising market participants operate on a level playing field when it comes to protecting user privacy.

In a statement shared with Forbes, Google said their services are used by thousands of European businesses “because they’re competitive and effective” and it plans to answer the European Commission’s questions and demonstrate the benefits of its products.

“Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetize their online services,” Vestager said. “Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising. We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack.”

The investigation into Google is the latest in the line of antitrust actions facing American tech giants including Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Earlier this month, the EU initiated an antitrust investigation into Facebook’s handling of advertising data along with the U.K.’s competition regulator. The bloc’s investigation into Facebook is set to examine if the company violated competition laws by using data gathered from advertisers to compete against them in the classified ads business. Earlier this year, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also opened a probe into Google’s plan to kill third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. The CMA announced earlier this month that it plans to play an oversight role in the design and development of Google’s upcoming “Privacy Sandbox”—the company’s planned replacement for third-party cookies—to ensure that they don’t distort competition. While the EU probe will examine the so-called Privacy Sandbox, Tuesday’s statement makes no mention of it having oversight on Google’s design process.