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EU calls for Google break up due to anticompetitive practices

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The European Comission has found Google could have been breaching the bloc's antitrust rules in advertising technology since at least 2014.

EU regulators could force Google to sell part of its digital advertising (adtech) business, in order to address the bloc's competition concerns. 

The European Comission has published a preliminary conclusion of their investigation into the company's dominance of the adtech sector, 

The document stated that the search giant had abused its dominant position in the sector by shutting out competitors since at least 2014. It added that “only the mandatory divestment by Google of part of its services would address its competition concerns”.

The preliminary view is a summary of a two-year-long investigation into Google's adtech practices, due to concerns that the company controlled almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising.

In the report, the Comission stated that Google had favoured its own ad exchange, AdX, in the auctions held by its own ad server, DFP, and in the way its ad-buying tools, Google Ads and DV360, place bids on these exchanges.

″[Google] collects users’ data, it sells advertising space, and it acts as an online advertising intermediary," said Margrethe Vestager, EU competition chief, in a statement. "So Google is present at almost all levels of the so-called adtech supply chain.

“Our preliminary concern is that Google may have used its market position to favour its own intermediation services. Not only did this possibly harm Google’s competitors but also publishers’ interests, while also increasing advertisers’ costs. If confirmed, Google’s practices would be illegal under our competition rules.”

This is the first time the bloc has ordered a tech giant to sell key parts of its business.

Dan Taylor, the vice president of global ads at Google, responded to the ruling: “Our advertising technology tools help websites and apps fund their content, and enable businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers. Google remains committed to creating value for our publisher and advertiser partners in this highly competitive sector.

"The commission’s investigation focuses on a narrow aspect of our advertising business and is not new. We disagree with the EC’s view and we will respond accordingly.”

The bloc's mandate is not final, as Google has now been given the opportunity of responding to the Commission's concerns, and defend its position before any breakup is mandated. 

In the past, Google has been forced to pay €8bn (£6.9bn) worth of fines in three separate competition cases.

The EU fined Google €2.4bn for manipulating search engine results to promote its own shopping service in 2017; €4.3bn for exploiting the dominance of Android OS in 2018 - which was later lowered to  €4.125bn - and  €1.5bn in 2019 for blocking rival online search advertisers.

The company is also fighting similar investigations in the UK and the US.

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