The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a new investigation into Google’s advertising activities over fears the company would unfairly exclude competitors. It is the CMA’s second open investigation into Google, following the announcement in March of a joint investigation with the EU into alleged collusion between Google and Facebook owner Meta.
The new research will delve deep into the “ad tech stack” – the collection of tools that make up the complex online advertising market. The CMA notes that Google has “strong positions at several levels of the ad tech stack,” examining three key elements in which the US company is the largest player. These include the market used by companies to advertise their advertising space; the ad exchanges themselves, which automate the sale of this inventory; and the ad servers that store and choose ads to serve.
In other words, all the key components that make the online advertising business buzz.
The CMA wants to know if Google is using its dominance in each of these individual companies to drive customers to its own services and make it harder for rivals to compete. Possible shady practices “include whether Google has restricted the interoperability of its ad exchanges with third-party publishers’ ad servers and/or has contractually linked these services together, making it more difficult for competing ad servers to compete,” the CMA writes.
Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the watchdog, said in a press statement: “Weakening competition in this area could reduce ad revenues from publishers, who may be forced to compromise the quality of their content to cut costs or improve their content.” “Behind paywalls. It can also lead to higher costs for advertisers passed on through higher prices for advertised goods and services.”
In recent years, Google has been fined several times for similar antitrust practices in other parts of its business. These include a €2.4 billion fine from the EU in 2017 for choosing its shopping service over its rivals in search results; and a €1.5 billion fine from the EU in 2019 for anti-competitive behavior in advertising, similar to what the UK is now investigating. (Google lost an appeal for the first and is currently appealing the second.)
We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this story if we hear anything.