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France fines Google $166M over 'unfair' ad rules, orders changes

By
Don Jacobson
Regulators said Google was able to apply rules unevenly because of its market dominance. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Regulators said Google was able to apply rules unevenly because of its market dominance. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- French regulators fined Google $166 million Friday, saying the tech company used its position as an Internet giant to impose unfair rules on its advertising platform.

In addition to the fine, the French Competition Authority ordered Google to clarify the wording of its ad rules and the procedures for suspending accounts.

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Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said it would appeal the fine.

The order is the latest in a string of European antitrust actions aimed at U.S. tech platforms. Google was also fined $1.7 billion by the European Union last March for "abusive practices in online advertising."

The French case evolved from a complaint by Gibmedia, which accused Google of unfairly suspending its account in 2015 for supposedly violating user protection rules. French regulators said those rules were "ambiguous" and enforced unevenly -- elements made possible by Google's overwhelming market dominance.

"The rules ... are themselves opaque and difficult to understand, so they give Google discretion to interpret and modify them," the FCA said. "In addition, the application of these rules does not seem to follow coherent principles -- thus, some sites have been suspended by Google while others, with similar content, have been maintained."

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Finally, the French officials said, Google failed to consistently enforce its rules. For instance, some noncompliant sites were still offered personalized ad services.

Google said it suspended Gibmedia's account to protect users from deceptive ads.

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