French Anti-Trust Authorities Find Google “Abused Dominant Position” In Turning Off Advertiser’s Account

French regulators said today that “Google had abused its dominant position in the internet advertising market when it barred a location data company from using its AdWords service,” according to a report appearing in the Financial Times.

The complainant is Navx, a company that provides “geolocalized content” of various sorts. The company complained to French authorities that its AdWords account had been wrongly suspended by Google. The “ruling” in this case requires Google to reinstate the company’s AdWords account “within five days.” According to a quote in the FT’s article:

Sixty per cent of Navx’s business disappeared overnight when it was barred from AdWords and the company had to lay off 12 staff, said Jean Charbonnier, Navx chief executive.

Google believed it was complying with French law, ironically, when it disallowed Navx’s campaigns. The company provides information about the location of cameras designed to catch speeding cars. In other words the data allowed smartphone users and others to avoid these cameras so as not to get caught speeding. Radar detection systems are apparently illegal in France, which is why Google turned off the account.

Navx claimed that it didn’t provide the devices merely data tied to the location of the cameras used to catch speeding cars. As a practical matter it amounts to the same thing because the end user behavior it enabled was the same.

This appears to be the first formal anti-trust ruling against Google and, as such, sets a psychological and potentially a legal precedent — although it was a regulatory and not formal judicial decision. For all these reasons Google will challenge it.

The underlying idea seems to be that because of Google’s market position — it controls nearly 90 percent of search in France — it is not allowed to simply disallow or turn off advertiser accounts without sufficient “due process” (my words) or justification. French regulators are calling for more transparency and clarity from Google.

There have been numerous cases of companies complaining about the lack of transparency and “capricious” nature of Google’s algorithm. The French authorities’ decision doesn’t touch organic but the logic here makes it just a stone’s throw away.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Legal: General | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Stupidscript

    “..it controls nearly 90 percent of search in France..”

    I don’t want to be too anal, but whenever someone describes the optional use of a service as “controlling” behavior by that service provider, a few hairs stand up.

    Would you describe Ford as “controlling 15.5% of American roads”?

    Probably not … it’s the DRIVERS who decide which vehicle to use, and what to do with it. The vehicle, itself, performs a very specific task at the request of the driver.

    Just because people CHOOSE not to use the other services certainly does not mean that Google has any influence over people’s use of those other companies, which would be the actual result of “controlling” the search market in France.

    I would have written something similar to this, instead:

    “..it is used for nearly 90 percent of all searches in France..”

    See the difference? In your usage, Google is described as “controlling” the market. In my usage, Google is described as an optional tool within the broader search market.

    Which is more accurate? Which is more inflammatory? Are we journalists, or op-ed writers?

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