Canada’s largest private sector union, Unifor, is urging the Competition Bureau to release the findings of its civil investigation into Google’s alleged anti-competitive online ad practices.
The scope of the investigation, initiated in October 2021, was to examine whether Google’s online ad practices would impede the success of competitors, result in higher prices, reduce choice, and hinder innovation in ad tech services.
The investigation also sought to determine whether Google’s practices are harming advertisers, publishers, and consumers.
“Since the time the inquiry began, Canada’s crisis in the news media sector, particularly in newspapers, has continued to worsen. Unifor’s membership has been impacted, with hundreds of local news operations shuttering as a result of dropping ad revenue,” Unifor noted in a release.
Earlier this month, Unifor criticized Google’s response to Bill C-18, arguing that limiting access to news content is disproportionately impacting media workers, a claim Google categorically denied during a committee meeting.
Unifor represents 12,000 journalists and media workers at multiple publications, including those at the Postmedia Network, which owns the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Sun, London Free Press, Vancouver Sun and more.
Postmedia signed a deal last year under which it received an undisclosed payment from Google in exchange for sharing content from its various publications. Nonetheless, the media conglomerate expressed support for Bill C-18, which would force Google and other digital platforms to pay news providers for the content they use on their sites.
Unifor explained that traditional media, including broadcast TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines, have been facing a waning pool of ad revenue, while Google, Facebook and Amazon account for 90 per cent of internet ad spending in Canada.
“Every day that Google is allowed to monopolize ad revenue, more harm is inflicted on the Canadian news industry, which has a negative impact on democracy as a whole,” said Unifor national president Lana Payne. “This is an important issue and one that our union and media workers have our eyes on. We eagerly anticipate the results of the Competition Bureau’s work.”
This was by no means the first examination of Google’s advertising practices. In 2013, the Competition Bureau opened an inquiry into Google’s online advertising business. It concluded in 2016 that the company used anti-competitive clauses in its AdWords API terms and conditions to exclude rivals and negatively affect advertisers.
As a result, Google had to remove these clauses and provide a commitment to the Commissioner not to reintroduce them for five years. Other allegations of anti-competitive conduct by Google, including the manipulation of Google’s search results so that Google-related links appear higher in the results listing and competitor links appear lower, were dismissed.
The pushback against Google’s online ad market dominance is not only happening in Canada – it’s on a global level. In Jan. 2023, the U.S. federal government and eight states sued Google, accusing the company of holding an illegal monopoly over online advertising.
In 2018, the European Union (EU) also slapped Google with its largest ever antitrust fine of 4.3 billion euros (about US$5 billion), for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system to unfairly prop up its search business. The tech giant challenged the fine, but lost in 2022.