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Europe's scrutiny of big tech business practices continues

This week, the EU launched an investigation into Google's ad practices. Meanwhile, the U.K. focuses on fake reviews and Germany takes a closer look at Apple App Store practices.

European authorities are beginning a fresh round of investigations into big tech, which includes digging into Google's ad practices for antitrust activity, as well as looking into Google and Amazon's approaches to combating fake reviews.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, opened a formal antitrust investigation Tuesday into Google's advertising practices.

The commission's investigation seeks to determine if Google violated the EU's competition rules by favoring its display advertising services over competing service providers, advertisers and online publishers, according to a news release.

The investigation will assess whether Google hampered competition by reducing third-party access to user data to provide targeted ads while making the data available to its own services. Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said Google operates at nearly all levels of the online advertising supply chain, making it hard for others to compete.

"A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain," she said in the news release. "Fair competition is important -- both for advertisers to reach consumers on publishers' sites and for publishers to sell their space to advertisers, to generate revenue and funding for content. We will also be looking at Google's policies on user tracking to make sure they are in line with fair competition."

It's the second time in as many months that antitrust officials have shined a light on Google ad practices. Last month, Google was fined $268 million after the French Competition Authority found that Google granted preferential treatment to its own ad technologies. Google agreed to change how it allows other advertising services to access user data and advertising tools.

Also this week

  • Germany's competition regulator has initiated a proceeding to assess Apple's App Store operation, as well as its dominance across business markets. The regulator has initiated similar investigations into big tech companies including Google, Amazon and Facebook.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority, the U.K.'s competition regulator, is investigating how Amazon and Google combat fake reviews on their sites and whether they've done enough to protect shoppers.
  • The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary advanced six antitrust reform bills Thursday, some of the most sweeping antitrust regulation reforms to date aimed at big tech, to the full House of Representatives for consideration. 

Elsewhere

  • A group of state attorneys general could file a lawsuit next week, accusing Google of violating antitrust law for requiring some apps in the Google Play store to use its payment tools to sell subscriptions, while Google receives a 30% commission from the sales, according to Reuters. Google is being sued by Epic Games on this issue, with a trial set for 2022. Epic also sued Apple for charging a similar 30% commission fee for using the company's required payment tools.
  • Amazon is in the process of buying MGM for $8.5 billion, but the FTC, now chaired by well-known big tech critic Lina Khan, has decided to review the deal, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cited anonymous sources. Amazon's business practices are already under an antitrust microscope, as it seeks to broaden its presence in the streaming service market.
  • Speaking of Khan, the new FTC chair has named three top staff members, according to a report from The Information. The appointees include Holly Vedova as acting director for the agency's Bureau of Competition, Sam Levine as acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and Erie Meyer as chief technologist.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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