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30 October 2020

Italian Watchdog Opens Formal Investigation Into Google's Online Advertising

The Italian Competition Authority has opened an investigation against Google for alleged abuse of its dominant position in the Italian online display advertising market.

The probe follows a complaint filed by the Italian digital advertising lobby group, IAB, last year. The Authority will consider the use of data collected through Google’s various applications, and whether this prevents rivals from competing effectively as well as its effect on consumers.

They will also investigate whether Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union has been violated, with regard to the accessibility and use of data for display advertising campaigns, which affects the space in which publishers and website owners make available for the display of their advertising content.

It will also  investigate whether there has been any internal/external discriminatory conduct, by any refusal to provide competitors with Google ID decryption keys, excluding third-party tracking pixels.

Online ad sales are the second most important source of revenue in the Italian media sector, in 2019 online advertising was worth more than 3.3 billion euros.

Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers’ Council, welcomed the Italian investigation, commenting: "This disadvantages publishers and ultimately their readers as less advertising revenue leads to less investment in journalism resulting in a damaging and long-term impact on media plurality."

The UK Competition and Markets Authority published their market study into the dominance of online platforms and digital advertising in July, urging the Government to act quickly to protect consumers and publishers from the damaging effects of the tech giants.

The FT recently reported that Mr Coscelli, CMA chief executive, “would give the Government a year to come up with a regulatory regime for big tech, including a new digital regulator, or he would take action.”

The NMA and its members have repeatedly called on the UK Government to intervene to protect journalism from the dominance of the tech giants. In a recent NMA survey, 89 per cent of local editors said the UK Government should act to make the tech giants pay for journalism on their platforms, as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have done.

Last week, the US Department of Justice also filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Google to “stop [them] from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets and to remedy the competitive harms.”