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ADIF urges for review of AdTech practices of Global giants in India
Earlier this month, EU regulators found Meta guilty of illegally forcing users to accept personalised ads and slapped a €390m fine. After determining that Meta's terms of service, which required users to accept personalised ads upon registering for the social media platforms, violated EU laws, the commission fined Facebook €210 million and Instagram another €180 million. The watchdog said that Meta's handling of customer data violates the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.
This is not the first occasion when regulators have fined bigtechs for discriminatory practices in the Adtech domain. In 2021, French Competition Agency fined Google €220m for adopting what it calls "opaque and difficult to understand" operational rules for Google Ads, and for implementing them in an "unfair and arbitrary manner,". According to the French regulator, Google made sure that the ad server preferred its platform for selling advertising space. Additionally, Google was taking advantage of its knowledge of what transpired on other ad networks and thus by lowering its own pricing. Due to its dominating position, Google had access to information that the competition did not, and the regulators were able to demonstrate in detail how they used this information to increase their chances of winning the bids.
Even back in 2019, The European Commission penalised Google €1.49 billion for illegally abusing its market dominance in the brokerage of online search advertisements. According to the Commission, by placing anti-competitive contractual limits on third-party websites, Google strengthened its hegemony in online search advertisements and insulated itself from competitive pressure. Publishers were prohibited from posting search advertisements from competing companies on their results pages, forced to reserve the most lucrative real estate for Google's advertisements, and required to obtain written consent before changing the way rival advertisements were displayed.
In addition to this, in the US, multiple antitrust cases have been filed against Google in December 2020, one alleging that Google has set up shop at each stop between advertisers and publishers selling advertising space, and the other on Google's anti-competitive actions in the search and search-advertising domains.
In India, the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA), the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) have raised allegations against Google, for lack of their bargaining power while entering into an agreement with Google. As per the agreements, the members are forced to share their news content with Google in order to prioritize their web links in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP) of Google. Another major concern raised was that the ‘snippets’ or ‘extracts’ that Google provides in Google Search and Google News, resulting in “zero-click searches.” The grievances mentioned that Google does not provide adequate compensation for the above. Due to these factors, even though Google does not produce any news of their own, it has steadily increased its influence based on what the user sees first and providing them with curated news through its powerful algorithms.
ADIF supports the CCI’s recent verdicts against Google in the Android and Google Play Billing Ecosystems, as it is paramount to restrict the abusive practices in the digital markets, to enable a fair and transparent ecosystem. While these issues are important and need to be addressed, the need of this hour is to scrutinize other aspects of the adtech market as well. As can be seen from the litigations faced by Bigtechs around the globe, the violations have been observed in multiple facets of the business, including non-transparent adtech pricing, prioritizing one’s own products and services, bundling products for their advantage, traversing transparency norms to outbid rivals, and acquiring rival businesses to maintain this dominance. ADIF strongly feels that India needs to start taking ex-ante steps in this domain as well to maintain a balanced market, prudent for both big and small players.
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