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French regulator orders Google to reinstate Gatso-buster's account

AdWords terms discriminatory, not transparent, lack objectivity...

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Google has "a dominant position in search advertising", said France's antitrust authority today as it gave the company four months to open up about its cancellation of the AdWords account of Navx, a vendor of speed camera warning devices.

Ominously for Google, the regulator also noted the company's 90 per cent share of the French search market, and observed that there are "strong barriers to entry in this area", including the development of an equivalent algorithm and extensive indexing of content.

Is the Autorité de la concurrence on the brink of saying Google has a monopoly of search advertising? It might well be. At the moment, however, it's saying that Google's AdWords policies have been put in place under conditions that lack objectivity and transparency, and that treat the vendors of speed camera databases in a discriminatory fashion. And it has given Google five days to reinstate Navx's AdWords account, pending a fuller explanation after four months.

Navx complained to the Autorité earlier this year following the cancellation of its account in November 2009. Google is also said to have cancelled the accounts of other companies selling similar products. According to a statement (in French) issued by the regulator earlier today, the AdWords rules for companies in this sector were made more restrictive in 2008, but it was not made clear to the companies why their accounts were being suspended. Nor was the company always informed of the suspension prior to it taking place (as was the case with Navx).

The Autorité also notes that Google's policies here seem discriminatory, because although manufacturers of GPS systems that include speedcam databases can continue to promote their products via AdWords, the producers of the databases (in France, CDB, Coyote, Navx, and AlerteGPS) cannot. The regulator also notes that unlike radar detectors, speed camera databases are not illegal in France. It is continuing to investigate, and has the power to fine Google. Its full decision (PDF, in French) can be found here. ®

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