French Competition Authority makes Google’s commitments in Navx case binding

On 28 October 2010, the French Autorité de la Concurrence (“FAC”) formally accepted and thereby made binding on Google a set of improved commitments (available only in French) which the FAC considered to properly address its competition concerns.  Last June, Google had offered to modify the rules governing its online advertising service, AdWords, following interim measures issued by the FCA (see Newsletter 3/2010, p. 8).

Google will make the functioning of its AdWords service concerning devices aimed at evading road traffic speed cameras in France more transparent and predictable for advertisers by:

  • Making it clearer the navigation devices for which advertising is authorized or prohibited, notably for warning devices and radar databases;
  • Defining the scope of the prohibition, in particular whether it applies to the advertisements’ content only or if it also applies to the advertiser’s destination pages or cross-referenced pages as well as to the use of keywords;
  • Introducing a procedure of information and notification targeted to the companies concerned regarding the modifications made to the AdWords content policy;
  • Making more precise the procedure likely to lead to the suspension of an advertiser’s account, in case of a breach of the AdWords content policy.

Google’s commitments will last three years. In addition, Google announced that it would implement its new policy more broadly, for all content admitted on the AdWords service and in all the countries concerned, thus bringing more transparency and predictability to advertisers far beyond the scope of the Navx case.

On 14 December 2010, shortly after its Navx commitments decision, the FAC has published the result of its sector enquiry (available only in French) in the online advertisement market. The enquiry examined the competitive functioning of the online advertising market in France, where it found Google holds a dominant position.  The sector enquiry results provide, for several types of practices (in general terms and not referred to actual Google practices), an analysis that makes it possible to better grasp their compliance with competition law.

The FAC identified possible exclusionary conduct intended to discourage, delay or eliminate competitors through procedures that do not consist of merit-based competition (artificially high entry barriers, excessive exclusivity clauses in terms of their field, duration or scope, technical obstacles etc.), as well as possible operational abuses. However, the opinion is a consultative document, and the FAC makes no ruling as to the legality of such practices. [Gabriele Accardo]