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EU Commission launches Google antitrust probe over its ad serving

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The European Commission has announced that it has opened a formal antitrust investigation into Google to find out whether it favoured its own online display advertising technology services over the competition's ad tech to the detriment of other providers, advertisers, and online publishers.

The Commission will look at a whole range of issues that it’s concerned about in relation to Google's ad practices, but one of the most high-profile items on its list pertains to Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox that will prohibit the use of third-party cookies in favour of Google’s federated cohorts alternative which could hurt other ad providers’ ability to target relevant ads at users.

Google has previously announced that it would prevent third-party advertisers from accessing the advertising identifier on Android if the user decides to opt out of personalised advertising. In its investigation, the EU Commission will examine the effects of this policy on online display advertising and online display advertising intermediation markets.

Commenting on the decision to launch the probe, Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, said:

“We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack. A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain. Fair competition is important - both for advertisers to reach consumers on publishers' sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers, to generate revenues and funding for content. We will also be looking at Google's policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition.”

The Commission has said that it will take into account the GDPR rules which help users maintain their privacy online and that this investigation seeks to ensure that Google is competing fairly with other firms. It said that this “in-depth investigation” will now be carried out as a matter of priority but didn’t state how long it’ll take.

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