Google probed by French watchdog over AdWords

Google is facing another antitrust probe by a French watchdog, which today accused it of a lack of “objectivity and transparency” in its AdWords service.

The Autorité de la Concurrence gave an interim ruling today in a case brought to it in February by Paris-based Navx, a speed camera location and petrol price data provider, which had its AdWords account suspended by Google without warning.

The French regulator found Google guilty of “discriminatory treatment”, which had “brutally and profoundly affected the revenues but also, and above all, the potential growth” of Navx.

It ordered Google to restore Navx’s AdWords account within five days and has also ordered it to make the terms and conditions of AdWords clearer and more transparent.

Google claims it suspended Navx’s AdWords account because Navx’s speed camera warning system violates the AdWords terms and conditions. Navx says that more established companies like TomTom and Garmin operate similar speed camera systems and were allowed to continue operating. It also said that it should have been given due warning in order to address the problem.

This is the first ruling of its kind made against Google over AdWords, but the company is under investigation by a number of others over antitrust practices. Several complaints from companies, including Microsoft, have prompted the European Commission to look into Google’s advertising policies.

However, Google has always been successful in court cases against its AdWords service. In April it won a case taken against it by language software company Rosetta Stone, which claimed that Google had infringed its trademarked name by allowing ads from Rosetta Stone’s suppliers to display in web searches instead of solely offering links directly to the Rosetta Stone website. Google believed the courts had vindicated its position on trademarks in AdWords, but LVMH begged to differ.

Since the new ruling against AdWords is only an interim one, Google is hoping to appeal it and convince the French that it has every authority to suspend accounts that violate its terms and conditions.