Google faces another antitrust probe in the UK over ad-tech dominance

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Less than three months after the ‘Jedi Blue’ investigation was announced, the CMA has launched another probe into Google’s dominance in the ad-tech space.

The UK’s competition watchdog is launching an investigation into potential anticompetitive behaviour by Google within the ad-tech space – the second probe into the search giant’s ad practices in less than three months.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the latest investigation will determine whether Google used its dominant position in online ads to breach existing competition laws and negatively impact publishers and consumers.

Future Human

Specifically, the investigation concerns Google’s conduct across parts of the ad-tech stack – the services in the ad-tech supply chain that constitute automatic buying, selling and serving of online display ads between advertisers and publishers.

This includes demand-side platforms that allow advertisers and media agencies to buy publishers’ advertising inventory, ad exchanges that provide tech to automate the sale of publishers’ inventory, and ad servers that manage the inventory and decide which ad to show.

CMA chief Andrea Coscelli said he is worried Google may be using its position in the ad-tech space “to favour its own services” to the detriment of rivals, customers and consumers, which would be “bad for the millions of people who enjoy access to a wealth of free information online every day”.

“Weakening competition in this area could reduce the ad revenues of publishers, who may be forced to compromise the quality of their content to cut costs or put their content behind paywalls,” he added.

Coscelli also said that Google’s behaviour may be raising costs for advertisers, which are passed on through higher prices for advertised goods and services.

‘Jedi Blue’ probe

This investigation comes just months after the EU and the CMA launched investigations into an ad-tech agreement between Google and Meta, called ‘Jedi Blue’. This involves the participation of Meta’s Audience Network in Google’s Open Bidding programme.

“We’re concerned that Google may have teamed up with Meta to put obstacles in the way of competitors who provide important online display advertising services to publishers,” Coscelli said when that investigation was launched in March.

The latest probe follows on from the CMA’s market study on online platforms and advertising, which examined Google’s ad-tech and bidding services as well as antitrust complaints.

“It’s vital that we continue to scrutinise the behaviour of the tech firms which loom large over our lives and ensure the best outcomes for people and businesses throughout the UK,” Coscelli said.

This initial investigation will include information gathering, analysis and review of information gathered, and is expected to last until February 2023.

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