2016 is not yet 60 days old and it already seems that this will be another tough year for Google in the EU. Only days after the world learned that Google swallowed the right to be forgotten effortlessly by hiding search results from all its websites to better appease the European Union’s privacy regulators, the news broke out that the EU will now be reviving its probe into Google’s advertising practices.
A new probe
It was reported yesterday that EU Officials are allegedly gathering information that may be used to build a so-called statement of objections listing areas where they suspect Google brakes antitrust rules, according to three people “with knowledge of the investigation”.
According to Bloomberg, the revived probe would be the result of specific investigation the EU has recently run, as the Commission’s officials would have been quizzing companies involved in online advertising in recent weeks about Google’s “nasty” behavior. Google’s $1 billion payment to Apple to keep its search bar on the iPhone would be one of the kind of exclusivity agreements regulators are looking at, one of the three informers said.
Google changes ads
The big news around Google’s ad business though comes only days after the world learned that the US tech giant would be ready to revolutionise its ad function itself. Last Saturday The SEM Post reported that Google is rolling out a big change on how its ads service will be provided to its users’ desktop, as ads will be soon removed from the right-hand side of results and will be soon put only at the top and bottom of the page.
Usually Google’s ads are shown all over the page – our readers will surely recall Google’s usual mix of top, bottom, and sidebar positions, depending on the specific search result – but this new change will leave a consistent portion of the desktop free. Google later confirmed the news, also declaring that the change is global and will affect all languages. “We’ve been testing this layout for a long time”, a Google spokesperson told The SEM Post. “We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers”.
Linked to the “old” complaints
The purpose of such a big change, which Google claims to be purely commercial, is still hard to define. Most of Google’s users surely were not expecting a refurbishment, but surely some ferment around Google’s ad service was already long due since time.
In order to get a much more comprehensive view on Google’s latest move it could be interesting to go back to last year’s biggest news on antitrust in the EU, when in April the European Commission officially filed a complaint against the American tech giant, alleging the company’s search results unfairly favoured its own shopping services over third-party sites. It would be a bit hard to think that Google, which makes more than 90% of its revenue from ads, puts in place such a big change without considering also all the open questions around its ad service.
The change on how Google will now display ads on desktop searches itself is strictly no direct consequence of any EU’s file against the American tech company, although such a big revolution on one of Google’s most important service, which accounts for almost $ 75 billion revenue, could really be no coincidence. The prevalent feeling is that a change in the ads side was somehow due after the Commission’s accusation on Google, as if the tech giant had to shuffle cards of its ads service.
New CEO chit chats with Vestager
Bloomberg’s breaking news only confirms the importance of Google’s ad business in the never-ending question with the EU, and how delicate the moment is for the Californian company. Indeed the opening of a new front against Google comes as another big news broke out: at the end of last week it was reported that Google’s new Chief Executive Sundar Pichai will meet Europe’s Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager this Thursday for the first time since his appointment last August.
Reuters describes the meeting as merely “introductory”, although it’s quite sure that, after all the numerous changes that took place in, this will not be another boring rendez-vous in Brussels.