Competition Newsletter March 2019

Author:Ms Emmanuelle van den Broucke, Alexia Delaunay and Khuong Lam

The French Competition Authority issues interim measures against Google regarding its online advertising market practices

In a decision dated January 31, 2019, the French Competition Authority ordered Google to clarify the rules of its advertising service Google Ads with respect to the fee-based online information services and to review its advertiser account suspension procedure.

The Authority had issued similar measures against Google in 2010 with respect to its AdWords service (now Google Ads) on roadside control bypass devices in France (Navx case).

In this decision, the claimant, Amadeus, is active in directory inquiry services and depends heavily on the online advertising department, Google Ads, since it is through this service that Amadeus achieves practically all its traffic.

However, as from January 2018, Amadeus noted the suspension of some of its Google Ads accounts, Google claiming non-compliance with its advertising rules because of the presence of allegedly misleading statements.

Amadeus referred this matter to the French Competition Authority, which considered that Google was likely to be in a dominant position on the online advertising market. To do so, it took into account the fact that its engine totals more than 90 percent of searches, the existence of entry barriers, the significant investments that have to be granted by third parties to be able to develop algorithms as effective as Google's algorithms and finally, the size of the data collected.

The Authority then noted that Amadeus' accounts had been suspended without warning or any clear indication of the alleged breaches, whereas the Google account managers had been involved in the advertising campaigns. They participated in the elaboration of the campaigns, the drafting of the spots and even assured Amadeus of their compliance with the Google Ads rules. The Authority concluded that these practices could constitute an abuse of a dominant position.

Indeed, Google's practices could not only constitute a sudden termination of commercial relations under conditions that were neither objective nor transparent. But the Authority also ruled that these practices were discriminatory, notably since other advertisers had been able to run advertisements even though they were written in identical terms.

Finding that the alleged practices had caused Amadeus massive losses (-90% between 2017 and 2018) and they might cause a serious and immediate prejudice if they continued, the...

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