Italian regulator investigates Google over digital ads

ROME (AP) – Italian regulators opened an investigation Wednesday into Google over alleged abuse of its dominant role in the country’s online ad market, adding to the global scrutiny that the Silicon Valley company is facing.

The Italian Competition Authority said it suspects the U.S. tech giant of using the vast amounts of data it collects through its various services to prevent rivals in the digital advertising market from competing effectively.

The watchdog said it carried out a joint inspection of Google’s offices with Italian tax police on Tuesday.

Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Italian authorities are focusing on the availability and use of data for display ads – the space that publishers and website owners make available to sell advertising content.

Google allegedly used tracking elements that allowed its ad broker services “to achieve a targeting capability that some equally efficient competitors are unable to replicate,” the authority said.

Reduced competition in the digital ad market could be bad for consumers, the authority said. It could starve news sites and publishers of resources, resulting in lower quality online content. It could also discourage innovation in new, less-intrusive advertising technologies.

Italy’s online advertising market was worth more than 3.3 billion euros ($4.9 billion) last year, with display ad revenue accounting for 1.2 billion euros of the total, the authority said.

The investigation comes a week after the U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, including allegations that the company’s “exclusionary” conduct stifles competition in search advertising, thus harming advertisers. Last year, European Union regulators fined Google 1.49 billion euros for freezing out rivals in the online ad market.

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