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France Fines Google

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Welcome to the Capital Note, a newsletter about business, finance, and economics. On the menu today: France fines Google, an hour-long web outage, bearish Bitcoin, and a primer on digital-ad exchanges. To sign up for the Capital Note, follow this link.

Google’s Antitrust Settlement

Yesterday, Google agreed to pay a $270 million fine to French regulators for alleged abuse of its power in the online-advertising market. While the fine itself is nominal, it marks the first major regulatory action targeting Google’s opaque ad marketplace, in which Google plays the role of both broker and seller.

The case surrounds the tech giant’s two-sided ad exchange, which connects buyers and sellers of digital ads. Google Ad Manager connects online publishers selling ad space with brands buying it. The problem: Google itself is one of the largest sellers of ad space on its search engine and YouTube, among other properties. The French Competitive Authority charged Google with manipulating its control over the ad exchange to give preferential treatment to its ad supply over that of competitors.

Regulators argue that the opaque exchange mechanism, in which ads are traded programmatically, allows Google to route ad bids to its own platforms, driving its dominance of the digital-advertising market. Critics draw a contrast between ad exchanges and others, such as those for financial assets, which are heavily regulated and carry significant disclosure requirements on the part of brokers, buyers, and sellers.

In a statement announcing the settlement, the regulatory authority said that Google had “proposed commitments . . . which will change the way its advertising service” and sales platform operate. Although the specifics around those changes remain unclear, the fine could catalyze a broader shift in the structure of the digital-advertising market, especially because the U.S. and U.K. are both conducting ongoing investigations into Google’s ad marketplace.

The fee comes in the aftermath of a complaint put forward by NewsCorp and two French media companies. The Wall Street Journal reports:

To settle the French charges, Google has offered to improve the interoperability of AdX with advertising servers run by

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