European Union antitrust regulators have sent two "statements of objections" to Google over its Adsense for Search platform, accusing the search giant of abusing its position by preventing third-party websites from showing ads from its competitors.
With Adsense for Search, Google gives third-party sites access to a custom search bar powered by Google Search, and in return shows ads next to the search results. Revenue from ads clicked on the site is shared between Google and the third-party site, and the caveat is that competing search ads cannot be placed next to or above the custom search bar. The EU's regulators state that in doing so, Google is stifling competition.
The EU commission also mentioned that it has "reinforced" its earlier case against Google wherein it accused the search giant of giving an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service in search results.
From the official press release:
The Commission has sent two Statements of Objections to Google. The Commission has reinforced, in a supplementary Statement of Objections, its preliminary conclusion that Google has abused its dominant position by systematically favouring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages.
Separately, the Commission has also informed Google in a Statement of Objections of its preliminary view that the company has abused its dominant position by artificially restricting the possibility of third party websites to display search advertisements from Google's competitors.
Google places search ads directly on the Google search website but also as an intermediary on third party websites through its "AdSense for Search" platform ("search advertising intermediation"). These include websites of online retailers, telecoms operators and newspapers. The websites offer a search box that allows users to search for information. Whenever a user enters a search query, in addition to the search results, also search ads are displayed. If the user clicks on the search ad, both Google and the third party receive a commission.
Specifically, the EU's regulators have raised issues with the following policies followed by Google for its Adsense for Search platform:
- Exclusivity: requiring third parties not to source search ads from Google's competitors.
- Premium placement of a minimum number of Google search ads: requiring third parties to take a minimum number of search ads from Google and reserve the most prominent space on their search results pages to Google search ads. In addition, competing search ads cannot be placed above or next to Google search ads.
- Right to authorise competing ads: requiring third parties to obtain Google's approval before making any change to the display of competing search ads.
The commission is giving Google and its parent company Alphabet ten weeks to respond to the latest round of charges. In addition to these objections, the commission is going after Google for abusing its dominant position in the mobile space by requiring manufacturers pre-install its services like Google Search and Chrome on all Android phones.