EU pushes probe up Google's ad alley

Commissioner looking into advertising dominance

The European Union (EU) is pushing forward with its probe into Google/Alphabet's dominance of the online ad market, with the commissioner in charge suggesting formal charges are on the way.

Margrethe Vestager spoke to The Wall Street Journal the day before getting on a plane to visit the US, and said her team was "advancing" its probe into both Google's ad business and its Android mobile OS.

The WSJ's parent company – News Corp – has formally complained to the EC over Google's business practices.

Vestager filed charges against Google this time last year, claiming that the search giant was favoring its own comparison shopping service in search results.

She suggested there may be more formal charges to come over Google's built-in apps with Android, and whether it abuses its market dominance to prevent other companies from placing ads on valuable websites.

A recent questionnaire sent by the EU to companies specifically asked whether Google was forcing them to give it exclusive rights to advertising on their sites.

Influence

Similar investigations into Google by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were controversially shut down by the FTC's commissioners despite staff recommendations that the company was likely abusing its position.

That FTC decision (and similar pro-Google decisions by the FCC and the White House) has raised increasing questions over the closeness of Google to the Obama Administration.

President Obama has himself questioned Vestager's motives in bringing cases against Google, Apple and Amazon among others, stating "sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else."

Vestager rejects those accusations, highlighting the tax break investigations her office has opened against a wide range of companies from Europe, the US and beyond. She told the WSJ:

"What we're doing for every company – be that a US company or a European company – is to make sure that their competitors don't get away with paying very, very little in taxes compared with themselves."

Vestager will be speaking at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in Washington and has meetings lined up with members of Congress and the Obama Administration.

Google is not commenting. ®

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