Facebook, Google Scrutinized Amid French Online Ad Sector Probe

  • French Competition Authority opens sector inquiry Monday
  • U.S. online display-ad market to reach $32 billion: eMarketer

The digital display-advertising sector -- led in the U.S. by Facebook Inc., Google and Twitter Inc. -- faces a potential antitrust crackdown as French regulators start an inquiry with a view to publishing final findings in the second half of next year.

Months after Germany’s antitrust agency began investigating Facebook’s control over the private data of millions of users, the French Competition Authority will examine the importance of collecting and exploiting data to compete in the online display advertising sector, according to a statement released Monday.

“Data plays a key role,” Bruno Lasserre, the head of the French antitrust body, told journalists in Paris. His officials will look into potential risks such as the ability of companies to offer services in different segments the way Google does with DoubleClick Inc., which provides Internet ad-serving support.

Facebook’s market power and strategy will also be under scrutiny. That should lead to questions about tools such as Facebook Topic Data, which allows access to the social media’s data.

Facebook declined to comment while Google and Twitter representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Growing Online

The sale of banner ads and other online display ads have reached $32.2 billion, and is set to overtake search ad expenditure in the U.S. for the first time, according to eMarketer. Facebook’s U.S. digital display-ad revenues were set to reach about $8.5 billion this year with Google garnering around $3.8 billion, according to eMarketer, a New York-based company that analyzes Internet services.

The French regulator said it plans to assess the degree of relationships between different targeted advertising, focusing in particular on social media.

The French Competition Authority’s report should feed into a public consultation aimed at gathering views of advertisers, publishers, automated exchanges for online display advertising and companies specializing in providing and exploiting data in this sector, according to Lasserre.

The findings could lead to recommendations for new laws or advice for companies to modify their behavior, Lasserre told reporters. Individual antitrust probes may be opened if warranted, he said.

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