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.