Google is under dual investigations in the European Union for allegedly abusive practices in its advertising business. This month, according to Reuters, anti-trust regulators for the EU have sent to a number of advertisers a 13-page questionnaire regarding the “Include Google Display Network” default setting for search campaigns on Google Ads. The setting made its debut in 2018. Google has said that it is cooperating with the regulators, who are looking into “all services of Google, including digital advertising and the ad tech chain.”
Among other things, the investigation seeks to discover whether advertisers receive rebates for using Google intermediaries when they purchase their ads; whether access to YouTube, which Google owns, is contingent on the use of such intermediaries; whether the 2018 integration of DoubleClick, the online ad-delivery unit, has affected advertisers; and whether the imminent elimination of third-party cookies from Google’s Chrome browser will have any effects.
As previously reported, the European Commission gave its permission to Google for the takeover of Fitbit at several conditions in December, including a ban on using Fitbit’s data for its own advertising activities. As we reported earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department has followed the European Commission’s lead and cleared Google’s proposed takeover of Fitbit, which has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.
Meanwhile, the EU Parliament has invited the CEOs – and the “CEOs only” – of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook to take part in a hearing scheduled for Feb. 1, as the body is due over the next few months to advise the European Commission on eventual changes to the regulation of Silicon Valley’s tech giants. The invitation, according to Reuters, speaks of learning “about their current business models and future concepts.”
Whether the CEOs will show up remains an open question, but Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was scheduled to speak by video conference with the EU’s anti-trust chief, Margrethe Vestager, on Jan. 25. Vestager has been executive vice president of the European Commission in charge of its “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age” program since late 2019 and European commissioner for competition since 2014. The Danish commissioner has been instrumental in levying multiple fines, together worth about $10 billion, against Google over the past three years.