Australia’s competition regulator has warned of a lack of transparency and competition in the digital advertising technology supply chain, signalling out market behemoth Google for its “ability and the incentive” to preference its own ad tech in anticompetitive ways.

Google is the only company to operate across the full ad tech supply chain that also sells ad inventory. It dominates the $3.4 billion digital display ecosystem in Australia, according to an interim report released today by the ACCC as part of its ongoing investigation of digital advertising services.

The report examines the adtech market broadly and reveals the extent of Google’s dominance in Australia, including potential conflicts of interest across the online advertising supply chain.

Google’s share of the revenue or ads traded in online advertising services in Australia ranges from 50-60 per cent to between 90-100 per cent, depending on the service, the ACCC estimates.

Google dominates the Australian display advertising market. Source: ACCC/Digital advertising services inquiry interim report.

“Google’s significant presence across the whole ad tech supply chain, combined with its significant data advantage, means Google is likely to have the ability and the incentive to preference its own ad tech businesses in ways that affect competition,” Mr Sims said.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims. Source: ACCC.gov.au

“During this inquiry we have heard concerns from parties about potential conflicts of interest from Google’s various roles in this industry. This includes Google very often acting on behalf of both publishers and advertisers for the same ad sale across the ad tech supply chain, while also selling its own ad inventory.”

The ACCC also highlighted how Google requires advertisers and publishers to use its own adtech platforms.

For example, Google-owned Youtube sells its ad inventory exclusively through Google adtech platforms, meaning any advertiser wanting to use the world’s leading video platform must also use Google adtech to buy the ads. Similarly, publishers wanting to receive real time bids from advertisers using Google’s ad tech must use Google’s proprietary publisher ad server.

In short, anyone wishing to use non-Google adtech is missing out on the majority of the market, according to the competition regulator, which says several stakeholders have told the inquiry Google is engaging in anticompetitive behaviour.

Google has told the inquiry the adtech market is a “competitive environment” that gives advertisers and publishers a “wide range of options”.

Stakeholders are asked to make submissions on the interim report by 26 February 2021. A final report is due by 31 August 2021.

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