​EU quizzes publishers about Google's advertising practices

Europe is asking web publishers whether the search giant's advertising contracts are anti-competitive.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The European Union is surveying web publishers to find out if there is any evidence that Google has abused its dominance in online advertising.

The European Commission's competition office has sent out questionnaires to companies this week to find out whether its contracts with website operators are anti-competitive and if it scrapes content from rival sites, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The questionnaires add to Google's complications in Europe, where it's been charged with giving preference to its own comparison shopping product and faces a separate probe into whether agreements with Android handset makers were anticompetitive. Google has until the end of August to respond to those charges, following two extensions to the original deadline of July 7.

One of the questionnaires asks companies whether Google's advertising contracts block website operators from placing ads on their sites that compete with Google's ad business, according to the WSJ, which has seen the questionnaire. The EC had probed Google's ad contracts in 2010 and wants an update as well as a copy of all ad agreements with Google over the last four years.

The EC also asks whether Google has asked publishers to limit themselves to only displaying Google search ads and why they agreed to such terms.

The other questionnaire seeks information on claims that Google scrapes content such as images from rival sites to use in its own services.

The EC typically sends out questionnaires before launching an official investigation and the fact that it has revisited questions about Google's advertising practices could mean it has found more reason to pursue additional charges against the search giant.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestagar has said she would continue to investigate these concerns, despite excluding them from the charges filed against Google in April.

Framing the issues for complainants, Thomas Höppner, a lawyer representing web publishers, told the WSJ that his clients "bear all the costs for creating the content while Google reaps the commercial benefits by merely copying and reusing the content in its own service".

Google didn't respond to ZDNet's request for comment. The EC declined to discuss the questionnaire when contacted by ZDNet.

Google's ad rivals, including OpenX and the WPP and Microsoft backed AppNexus, earlier this year complained to the EC that Google "ties and bundles" its advertising tech products together in a way that prevents customers from using rival services.

Google at the time said that while it aimed to "make [its] products work more seamlessly together" it didn't require clients to use any of its DoubleClick products.

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