Protocol | Policy

Google commits to ad tech changes amid $270 million fine in France

The ad tech giant didn't admit fault, but did promise to play nicer with competing ad platforms.

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Google announced a series of changes to its ad tech tools Monday as part of a roughly $270 million settlement with France's antitrust authority.

France's competition authority alleged that Google had given preferential treatment to its own technologies over competitors. French regulators' major concern throughout the two-year investigation was that because Google owns dominant tools on both the buying and selling sides of online advertising, it might be using competitors' information to improve its own bids. The investigation was spurred by complaints from publishers, including News Corp.

Google defended its ad networks in a statement, arguing its tools are "built to work with our partners and competitors alike." The company did not admit fault regarding any of the regulator's allegations. Google did, however, commit to changes that would make its Ad Manager product work more seamlessly with third-party networks.

Specifically, Google agreed to give ad buyers access to more data about ad auctions, including the "minimum bid to win," a data point that helps buyers understand the price required to buy a certain ad slot. Google also agreed to make its Ad Manager product interoperable with third-party ad networks, and said that it will not use data from those third party ad networks to optimize its own bids.

"We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally," said Maria Gomri, Google's legal director in France.

The French authority's decision, and Google's response, cut to the heart of a core concern about Google's role in the online advertising world: the fact that it owns so many parts of the online ad experience.

"These very serious practices have penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position," Isabelle de Silva, president of the French Competition Authority, said in a statement. "This sanction and these commitments will make it possible to re-establish a level playing field for all players, and the ability of publishers to make the most of their advertising space."

The online ads business, which is responsible for the vast majority of Google's revenue, has piqued the interest of regulators around the world, with investigations ongoing in the U.S. and U.K. Smaller vendors have said the changes Google institutes can reverberate throughout a major industry of buyers and sellers of online and mobile ads that is often invisible to consumers.

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