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Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation on Tuesday into whether Google has abused its market position by favoring its own online display advertising technology.

Why it matters: The probe will target parts of Google's massive $147 billion annual ads business that have never been investigated formally by regulators, including ways its advertising practices may have shaped its dominance on its video platform YouTube.

Details: The probe broadly targets Google's dominance in advertising technology, which the Commission says could be "to the detriment of competing providers of advertising technology services, advertisers and online publishers."

  • The investigation will look at whether Google is making it impossible for its competitors to compete with it in ad-serving by restricting third parties from gaining access to the user data it has on different websites and apps.

Be smart: Google over the past two decades has acquired a handful of advertising technologies, like DoubleClick, an ad tech platform that it purchased in 2007, that regulators have long-argued give it dominance in advertising.

  • Google is by far the largest advertising company in the world, netting nearly $147 billion each year in advertising. Its closest competitor, Facebook makes around $83 billion.

What they're saying: "Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetize their online services,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief. “We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack.”

The big picture: This is the fourth major investigation into Google's dominance by the European Commission in less than five years.

What to watch: Regulators in the U.S. have been simultaneously probing Google for its dominance in ad tech. The U.S. has to-date failed to target Google with fines as severe as those levied on the tech giant by European regulators.

Go deeper

Senate eyes tech firms' data troves

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lawmakers mulling how to tighten antitrust laws' reins over online platforms will grill Google and Facebook Tuesday about a key asset in the digital age: data.

Why it matters: The intersection of data collection and competition policy is a particularly vulnerable point for the tech giants, whose power comes from amassing troves of information about users.

Updated Sep 21, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: The Washington Post launches digital ad network

The Washington Post

The Washington Post on Tuesday launched an ad network as part of its Zeus advertising technology business, executives told Axios. The network has been in the works for two years.

Why it matters: Marketers have long said they want to buy ads with the ease and efficiency of platforms like Google and Facebook, but on trusted websites like premium news publishers. This ad network solves that.

2 hours ago - Health

Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New data from South Africa suggests the Omicron variant spreads more than twice as quickly as the Delta variant, and that immunity from prior infection doesn't appear to protect a person very well against Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The findings are extremely preliminary, and there are still many open questions about how well vaccines work against the variant. But these initial breadcrumbs of data are helping the world begin to understand what it's up against.