Google gets stuck between privacy, antitrust with ad data limits

February 7, 2020 By Gerrit De Vynck and Mark Bergen

Google is limiting access to key tools that track ad spending, disrupting hundreds of marketers and underscoring the powerful role the search giant plays in the digital advertising industry.

One recent change affects ad-measurement companies — independent firms that monitor the performance of ads across Google, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Last month, Google cut off those companies from analyzing a popular type of Google ad shown on iPhones and iPads. Instead, the company told advertisers to use its own measurement tools, something marketers have complained about in the past because they would rather trust neutral third parties.

The move focuses on ads that try to persuade people to install apps, a corner of the industry that generates billions of dollars a year in revenue for Google and other tech giants. One industry executive said the step was anticompetitive because Google is favoring its own services and unfairly elbowing out rivals. The person plans to complain to state attorneys general, who are investigating Google for potential antitrust violations. The person asked not to be identified discussing sensitive issues.

Google dominates search ads and, with Facebook, controls more than 60% of the broader digital ad market, according to one estimate. With data on billions of users, Google helps marketers target online messages and measure how many people clicked on ads and took other valuable actions, such as making purchases.

The internet giant has been pressured for years to share more of this data with outside firms, so marketers can trust the metrics and easily compare how Google ads perform versus other providers. Access to this information is an emerging antitrust issue, especially in Europe, and Google has slowly opened up over the years.

But new privacy rules in California and Europe have raised the...

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