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Publishers aim to 'break Google's stranglehold' over advertising with antitrust complaint

The European Publishers Council has lodged the complaint with the European Commission.

A GROUP REPRESENTING some of the largest media organisations in Europe has filed an antitrust complaint against Google, with the express aim of “breaking the stranglehold” the search engine giant holds over online advertising. 

The European Publishers Council (EPC) has lodged the complaint with the European Commission which it is appealing to “to hold Google accountable for its anticompetitive conduct” over ad tech.

The EPC is asking for the Commission to impose remedies to restore “effective competition” in the ad tech value chain for press publishers and other businesses. 

EPC members include Bauer Media Group – which owns Newstalk – and Daily Mail publisher DMG Media. The Guardian and The New York Times are also members.

The antitrust complaint is the latest in a long running battle between publishers and Google, which has Dublin as its European headquarters. 

“It is high time for the European Commission to impose measures on Google that actually change, not just challenge, its behaviour,” EPC Chairman Christian Van Thillo said.

He alleged that Google’s behaviour has “caused and continues to cause considerable harm, not just to Europe’s press publishers, but to all advertisers”. 

This will “eventually” land on consumers in the form of higher prices and less choice, Thillo added.

“Competition authorities across the world have found that Google has restricted competition in ad tech, yet Google has been able to get away with minor commitments which do nothing to bring about any meaningful changes to its conduct.

“This cannot go on. The stakes are too high, particularly for the future viability of funding a free and pluralistic press. We call on the Commission to take concrete steps right now that will actually break the stranglehold that Google has over us all.”

In a statement, the EPC said that since Google’s acquisition of marketing platform DoubleClick in 2008, the company “has embarked on a barrage” of tactics to “foreclose competition in ad tech”. 

He continued: “This strategy paid off, and Google has achieved end-to-end control of the ad tech value chain, boasting market shares as high as 90-100% in segments of the ad tech chain.”

As Google “represents the buyer and the seller in the same transaction”, he alleged there are conflicts of interest in how it operates.

The EPC insisted that the European Commission is well positioned to act on its complaint, as it can leverage the findings of a number of competition authorities, in France, the UK and Australia. 

Van Thillo said: “This Complaint presents a unique opportunity for the European Commission to rectify the problems that have arisen as a direct result of its 2008 clearance of the Google/DoubleClick merger, by imposing effective remedies that will restore competition in ad tech, for the benefit of European press publishers, marketers, and consumers.”

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