On 30 June 2010, the French Competition Authority (the "Authority") stated that Google has implemented the content policy of its online advertising service, AdWords, in a way which lacked objectivity and transparency and resulted in discriminatory treatment.
Navx, a start-up company marketing online databases for GPS navigation devices, submitted a complaint against Google, coupled with a request for interim measures, alleging that Google was implementing anticompetitive practices on the online advertising market.
Navx complained in particular that its contract had been suddenly broken off by Google and that Google had discriminated against it. In 2008 Google decided to modify, in a more restrictive fashion, its content policy for devices aimed at evading road traffic speed cameras. The wording of its general conditions were however considered to lack clarity as to whether it remained possible for manufacturers of speed camera databases to continue to advertise. Until the beginning of November 2009, Navx advertisements that had been the subject of automatic cancellation had been restored on a simple request from Navx. After that date however, Google decided unilaterally to suspend Navx's account.
Pending a full investigation, the Authority considered that if Google, which is considered to hold a dominant position on the advertising market related to online searches in France, remains free to define its content policy for admission to its AdWords service, this policy has to be implemented in a transparent, objective and non-discriminatory fashion. The Authority has ordered Google, amongst other interim reliefs, to restore Navx's AdWords account within five days and to impose new more transparent conditions.
The facts brought to the knowledge of the Authority evidenced a suspected lack of objectivity and transparency concerning the scope and the impact of the ban, the process applicable in the event of a change in conditions and the procedure followed in the event an account is suspended. The suspected discrimination has been evidenced by the differences in the treatment applied to different radar database suppliers.
A final ruling remains to be issued.
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