Google and the European regulators recently made a stir when they accused Google of illegally removing ads from circulation. France’s antitrust regulator imposed a 150 million euro fine ($166.2 million) for arbitrarily suspending ads, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google suggests that the ads were removed because they were deceptive.
The French regulator argues that Google has the power of “life and death” over internet ads. The French antitrust authority characterized the suspensions, according to the report, as “brutal and unjustified” and “random and unpredictable.” Google plans to appeal the decision, and the French regulator is asking Google to explain the process behind the suspensions.
Google told the WSJ that the company ran ads for sites “that deceived people into paying for service.” Google takes the position that it was protecting consumers; the ads in question were “exploitative and abusive.”
Give the size of the judgment, and it’s unreasonable to think that Google will take the fine lying down. Google is working on gathering the evidence needed to prove its case against the suspended ads.
This case will have many implications for marketers working in the EU market. Google already has extensive ad policy documentation, so there’s sure to be some explanation for why these ads were suspended. However, as one commentator explained, “further clarification and transparency surrounding policies and suspensions would probably be a good outcome.”
Depending on the case, the trial could change what would be from considered acceptable by EU regulators in the future. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Google has too much control over the life and death of a business. If the fine is allowed to stay, Google will have to rethink the way it handles suspensions.
Google has several other online advertising competitors, such as Facebook and Bing, that will be watching the case with great interest. These companies also exercise similar discretion over ads and presumably would be equally affected by this decision in France — and perhaps throughout Europe, by extension — pending the outcome of any court case.
The French regulators switch to a massive fine that could also have effects on the way EU regulators go after Google in the future. In the past, EU regulators were searching for universal ways to improve the ad experience for people in the country. If regulators can slap on a considerable fine whenever they aren’t happy, it gives Google more of a reason to ensure that the regulators are satisfied.
However, at present, it seems the most likely outcome will be for Google to bring in evidence that explains why the ads were deceptive. It makes more sense for online advertisers to have a set of principles that will guide the content they use. Waiting for massive fines to show up after a campaign has been suspended wouldn’t make a lot of sense to most advertisers.
For more recent news about EU advertising law, read this article on items that make the EU more open for particular internet technology.