Google’s Adtech Targeted by Publisher Antitrust Complaint in EU

Another antitrust case filed in the European Union by a group of publishers has challenged Google’s domination of the internet ad business. The European Publishers Council (EPC), whose members include the CEOs of News UK, Condé Nast, New York Times, Axel Springer, and The Guardian, among others, is claiming that, since its 2008 acquisition of adtech firm DoubleClick, Google has used “a barrage of unlawful tactics to foreclose competition in ad tech,” allowing it to gain a “stranglehold” over press publishers and others in the adtech ecosystem.

The EPC appears to be attempting to exert pressure on the European Commission, which has been investigating Google’s adtech since last summer, but which also – historically – waived through Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick, allowing the search giant to become a force in online advertising. Although the timing of this complaint appears to be intriguing as well. Given that the United Kingdom’s competition commission has approved a set of behavioral pledges from Google that will allow it to continue developing a stack of non-tracking-based ad targeting technologies that will eventually replace cookie-based tracking.

(Not to mention that a fundamental component of the current privacy-invading adtech regime of tracking and profiling online users in order to target them with adverts was found to be in violation of EU privacy standards earlier this month, and given a six-month deadline to reform.) It’s also worth noting that the EPC appears to have irritated a number of journalists by moving its own embargo forward just as the CMA announced that Google’s Privacy Sandbox promises had been accepted. Hmmm!

The behavioral ad industry has been passing off a piece of compliance theater as “a cross-industry best practice standard” for years, claiming that the consent management platform allowed advertisers to continue tracking and surveilling European Internet users without having to worry about pesky EU privacy laws, but it has now been confirmed to violate the bloc’s rules. The ruling sets off a ticking time bomb for the behavioral ad industry’s regional operations, with the IAB Europe given just two months to present an action plan to its Belgian regulator outlining how it intends to fix the disaster it helped create.

The regulatory censure forbids behavioral marketers from using the IAB’s so-called “Transparency and Consent Framework” (TCF) to bypass user consent by claiming legitimate interest as a legal basis to track and profile online users, making polishing the turd in issue exceedingly difficult.