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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the complaint about?
    The European Publishers Council has filed an antitrust complaint against Google with the European Commission in a bid to break the ad tech stranglehold Google currently has over press publishers, and all other businesses in the ad tech ecosystem. Specifically, the EPC calls on the European Commission to hold Google accountable for its anticompetitive conduct and impose remedies to restore conditions of effective competition in the ad tech value chain. See the Executive Summary for more information.
  • What is ad tech and why does it matter?
    Ad tech refers to the technology powering online ads consumers see in their everyday lives when browsing the web – think for example of a banner ad in the homepage of a newspaper promoting the latest blockbuster movie. As news consumption has shifted from print to digital, press publishers have grown increasingly reliant on online advertising to fund their operations. While ad space was traditionally sold on the basis of bilateral negotiations between press publishers and advertisers, online advertising is being increasingly sold “programmatically” on the basis of complex real-time auctions happening in the milliseconds it takes to load a webpage. Ad tech vendors organize these real-time auctions, along with providing software tools to press publishers and advertisers to manage their ad space and campaigns respectively. The ad tech value chain refers to the various ad tech vendors capturing the space between press publishers and advertisers, including publisher ad servers, ad exchanges, and ad buying tools. The problem is that Google has come to monopolize the ad tech value chain, charging a very high commission of at least 30% on transactions it intermediates between publishers and advertisers. At the same time, Google has actively suppressed competition from rival providers, denying press publishers and marketers of the benefits of competition. Google has developed unmanageable conflicts of interests, and time and again has prioritized its own interests at the expense of its clients, introducing features that depress press publisher revenue and increase its own.
  • What is at stake for European press publishers and consumers?
    Absence of effective competition in ad tech causes considerable harm to European press publishers, advertisers, and consumers in the form of supra-competitive fees, lower quality of service, and less innovation. Less advertising revenue means press publishers have fewer resources to invest in news content and fulfil their socially important mission of informing the general public and holding those in power accountable. Supra-competitive ad tech fees are also borne by advertisers, which they may pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices for advertised goods or services. Everyone loses but for one company: Google.
  • How is this complaint different to other competition cases against Google?
    As far as we know, this is the first EU-wide complaint to comprehensively address Google’s web of anticompetitive practices in ad tech. Previous investigations either do not concern the EU, or have not resulted in any meaningful changes in Google’s harmful conduct.
  • What is anti-competitive about Google’s behaviour in ad tech?
    Since its acquisition of DoubleClick in 2008, Google has embarked on a barrage of unlawful tactics to foreclose competition in ad tech. This strategy paid off, and Google has achieved end-to-end control of the ad tech value chain, boasting market shares as high as 90-100% in segments of the ad tech chain. Google’s anticompetitive pattern of conduct continues to this day, albeit in some instances in different form. While constantly mutating, Google’s tactics have remained in purpose and effect the same, namely depriving rivals of scale and revenue while locking customers to Google’s products so that Google can then charge supra-competitive rates. Google’s ad tech suite is rife with conflicts of interests, as Google represents the buyer and the seller in the same transaction, while also operating the auction house in the middle, and selling its own inventory. Far from managing its conflicts, Google has time and again taken advantage of its position to prioritize its own self-interests at the expense of the very customers it is supposed to serve.
  • What is the legal process and timeline?
    The EPC filed the complaint on Friday, 11th February 2022, with the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust enforcer. The European Commission has an ongoing investigation into Google’s ad tech business, launched in June 2021, and we expect our complaint to form part of this investigation. We expect the European Commission to carry out its in-depth investigation as a matter of priority, given the compelling evidence of wrongdoing on Google’s behalf. The EPC will remain at the disposal of the European Commission throughout the investigation, while pushing for effective remedies to break Google’s ad tech stranglehold.
  • What do press publishers ultimately want to achieve from this complaint?
    The EPC has filed this complaint to request from the European Commission to intervene and impose remedies that restore conditions of effective competition in ad tech, to the benefit of European press publishers, advertisers, and ultimately consumers.
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