back to article Fuming French monopoly watchdog is so incensed by Google's 'random' web ad rules, it's fining the US giant, er, <1% annual profit

Google was today ordered by France's monopoly watchdog to cough up a €150m ($166m) fine for abusing its "dominant position in the search advertising market." The Euro nation's Autorité de la concurrence slammed the American web giant's "opaque and difficult-to-understand rules," which are applied "in an unfair and random …

  1. Foxglove

    Deceptive units.

    A bit off topic, but:

    'handles an estimated nine out of ten web searches in France, and four out of five globally.'

    Why not write 'nine out of ten web searches in France, and eight out of ten globally'?

    It feels a bit like Tesco randomly using price/100g and price/1Kg across similar weight goods to confuse customers and I don't like it.

    1. gerdesj Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Deceptive units.

      Quite but at least a factor of 10 is fairly easy to correct for, but I agree with you: why use two measures? Far worse abuses of statistics are carried out every day by politicians and the media and everyone who has an axe to grind.

      The abuse of percentages: A 100% increase in <something> is reported which is actually an increase of 1 to 2 in 1,000,000. As soon as you hear the term percent outside of an exam result, alarm bells should ring. Demand absolute numbers: "We found that in 2018 1 in 1M results happened and in 2019 2 in 1M results happened". It may still be important depending on context - >1km diameter asteroid hitting earth vs Star Wars film releases.

      Graphs: The Y axis does not go to zero. Sometimes you want to see the fine detail but scaling Y from y to y+tiny_delta can make a spurious point involving the apparent importance of the gradient of the graph.

      Oh bugger it, start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misuse_of_statistics

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Deceptive units.

        "It may still be important depending on context - >1km diameter asteroid hitting earth vs Star Wars film releases."

        ?

        How big a crater will the next Star Wars film create?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Deceptive units.

          "How big a crater will the next Star Wars film create?"

          Is that if one man digs for two days as compared to 2 men digging for three years?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Deceptive units.

          "How big a crater will the next Star Wars film create?"

          It's as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Deceptive units.

      The most random is for bog rolls and kitchen towels. Some are priced per sheet, others by the sqm, some by sqcm and every once in a while by the gram. Who shops bog rolls by the gram?

      At least with metric units, all you may have to do is shift the decimal point. Try shopping in the US where toilet paper might be priced out by the revolution. Paper products are all over the place. There is also the huge math problems with inches, pounds, ounces, grams, feet, etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Deceptive units.

        Oh, I love the US and packaging.

        UK: Contains 150 grams of food.

        US: Contains 3 portions.

        Yeah... no thanks!

        1. Carpet Deal 'em

          Re: Deceptive units.

          If this is about the nutrition label, that's almost entirely up to the manufacturer and what they can get away with(eg, soda used to be labelled as having 2 1/2 servings per 20oz bottle, but then people got upset and now it's one serving). The total weight/volume is always provided elsewhere on the packaging.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Deceptive units.

            As far as I remember, I've seen their packaging with no info on it what so ever. So not sure how universal that rule is.

            1. PacketPusher
              Headmaster

              Re: Deceptive units.

              That can happen when the item is individually wrapped, but sold in a larger package. "Fun Size" Kit Kat candy bars will not have munch information on the individually wrapped bars, but the package they came in will have nutritional data, weight/volume, and ingredient info.

      2. Steve Graham

        Re: Deceptive units.

        If I remember correctly, the unit most often used in Tesco for toilet paper is price "per 100 sht".

        1. Craig 2

          Re: Deceptive units.

          "per 100 sht".

          No way a single roll lasts 100 shits.

      3. Ken Shabby
        Facepalm

        Re: Deceptive units.

        I misread that at fist as "all you have to do is shit the decimal point", ow.

        1. Marcelo Rodrigues
          Coat

          Re: Deceptive units.

          "I misread that at fist as "all you have to do is shit the decimal point", ow."

          At least it is round. Imagine a comma...

          1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

            Re: Deceptive units.

            And if you're passing a colon then you need medical assistance cos that's a prolapse!

        2. KittenHuffer Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Deceptive units.

          So what, I read that first as 'fist' ..... and when I read it again it was still 'fist'!

          In my extensive video watching experience they normally pass through from the opposite direction, and I don't recall having seen toilet paper involved!

          Closest I could find to a fist ---->

      4. veti Silver badge

        Re: Deceptive units.

        If it comes to that, who buys bog rolls by the sheet?

        I don't think I've seen a shop where you rip off and pay for X sheets of bog roll, you just buy "a roll" of the stuff.

        1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

          Re: Deceptive units.

          I buy bog rolls by the sheet.

          That is to say, I'll look carefully[1] at what I'm buying, and use the price-per-sheet as a criterion in deciding what to buy.

          [1] The "carefully" is since I once found myself with slightly-narrower-than-standard stuff that wasn't quite adequate for my fat arse and left the hand rather exposed. Some considerations are more important than price per sheet or unverifiable ethical claims!

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

    Of course it will. Because it says that Gibmedia was using deceptive practices.

    Now, if we had been presented with a spat between Gibmedia saying it had been booted unjustly, and Google stating deceptive practices, and the perspective of a lawsuit, then fine, we'll see what happens. But the judges have sorted it out, and they have decided that Google was unfair, thus justifying Gibmedia.

    France is not the USA, you're going to have to find a different reason and just chanting "They were cheating" is not going to cut it.

    Of course, this being Google, I predict that this affair is going to go on until Gibmedia shuts down for lack of funds.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

      I'm wondering if Gibmedia was found to have been treated unfairly and/or that Google was caught making up the rules as they went along (again) during the investigation.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

        Google was caught making up the rules as they went along (again) during the investigation.

        Yeah, that's pretty much the ruling as states. Gibmedia may well have been doing wrong by Googles rules, but Google are not applying those rules consistently. It might well be a case of "we are bad boys and got punished for what we did, but everyone else is doing it too so why did we get punished and not them" from Gibmedia.

        1. Dinanziame Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

          "It's unfair that I was the only one fined for speeding even though others are also doing it!" Yeah, Glibmedia doesn't seem like a convincing victim here.

          That said, Google could totally make more efforts in applying their rules more consistently. I guess it would cost them MONEY *shudder*, but that's why there are regulators to gently prod them on with a slap on the wrist.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

            That doesn't seem to be their argument. They are saying they've never been found guilty of deceptive practices.

            So they say they've done nothing wrong and the judge says Google are making it up as they go along.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

              "So they say they've done nothing wrong and the judge says Google are making it up as they go along."

              No, as you stated in your first paragraph, they're saying they've not been found guilty, not that they've done nothing wrong.

    2. (m)any

      Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

      It seems that the appeal process is the default setting for Google.

      1. aks Bronze badge

        Re: "Google said it will appeal the ruling against it"

        Not only Google

  3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Holmes

    They've got a strong point.

    Google do change how they apply this all the time, so suddenly you can find yourself cut off from them. Even more so when you're owed revenue from what I've heard. It also gives no arbitration or specific guidance on just what rule what was fallen affoul of (other than vague 'yous was wrong coz we sayz yous was wrong') nor any methods to resolve the issue this allowing to fix the mistake and carry on again after a mild hand slap (so long as you know why).

    Other industries have regulation by this point and independent oversight to ensure fairness, will we see the same against the likes of Google?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: They've got a strong point.

      We seem to have collectively given up on regulation because Internet and because disruptive and because Google and the rest spend billions on lobbying politicians so they can have it that way.

  4. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

    Google are the Good Guys here

    Google are in a constant arms-race with spammers. Being a bit 'unpredictable' is surely one of their best weapons against all kinds of abuse - from the simple "spam my results" (as kelkoo used to do to the point where I had to exclude them explicitly from all google searches) to those whose agendas include installing spyware[1], ransomware, etc.

    Anything google publish to comply with this, we can be sure that those with the biggest budgets to read and use it (rapidly) to game the system will be the biggest abusers. But more to the point, if google are prevented by law from fighting spam, they'll rapidly become useless to ordinary users.

    [1] Before replying "google is spyware", bear in mind that google isn't in the business of using a keylogger to collect passwords, or anything like that.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Google are the Good Guys here

      True. But good guys have to follow rules, otherwise they quickly stop being good guys. You can't just go all vigilante on spammers, you have to be enforcing - something.

      If that makes life more difficult for Google, then - sorry, but the world does not owe them a business model. It's up to them to square this circle so that they can enforce rules consistently and still beat the spammers - that's their problem, it's one that they've claimed for their own, and if they misbehave in the process they should be held accountable for that.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Google are the Good Guys here

      " bear in mind that google isn't in the business of using a keylogger to collect passwords"

      Google ate Doubleclick (who DID use spyware amongst other dodgy shit), instead of letting it die.

      Doubleclick then ate Google (poison pill) and begat Alphabet. One of the casualties was "Don't be Evil"

      Lesson2: Eating a capsule of live parasite eggs is usually a bad idea. Go figure.

      Lesson2: "The Stuff" is supposed to be science fiction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZRdPNlLG4s

      "Are you eating it or is it eating you?"

  5. NerryTutkins

    no smoke without fire

    Gibmedia, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing.

    "Gibmedia has never been convicted of any deceptive practice

    This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of their honesty. I am willing to bet most of the Nigerian princes and "Microsoft" support staff within indian accents who contact me about viruses have never been convicted either.

    1. find users who cut cat tail

      Re: no smoke without fire

      Exactly. There is only a single reason for saying ‘have never been convicted of doing’. They did it and cannot even deny it because there is no doubt about it and such blatant lying could itself get them into trouble.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge

        Re: no smoke without fire

        Exactly. There is only a single reason for saying ‘have never been convicted of doing’. They did it and cannot even deny it because there is no doubt about it and such blatant lying could itself get them into trouble.

        I have to disagree. It's true that a lack of conviction is not proof of innocence, but it's also true that a conviction is not proof of guilt.

        I cannot say I've not been accused of theft or other dishonest practices, but I can say I've never been convicted of such. What else could you say?

        Sadly in this day and age way too many people take a denial of guilt as an admission of guilt. "If he wasn't actually guilty, he wouldn't need to say he's not guilty now would he?"

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: no smoke without fire

          There is a substantial difference to saying "I did not do something" to "I have not been convicted of doing something". The former is very clear, the latter is weasel words and allows me to have done that something but to not have been caught and censured for doing so.

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: no smoke without fire

            There is a substantial difference to saying "I did not do something" to "I have not been convicted of doing something". The former is very clear, the latter is weasel words and allows me to have done that something but to not have been caught and censured for doing so.

            You're missing a little something - cultural differences. The first part of that is it was their lawyer who made the statement (and we can agree it was weasel words since that's all lawyers speak), but as a 3rd party they lawyers would't be in a position to unequivocally state that the firm had never engaged in deceptive practices and no experienced lawyer would make a mistake of saying that (after all, who knows what some junior salesperson said while trying to get a larger sale, or what some employee said while playing oneupmanship said during a late night drinks session) - there are deceptive practices that are annoyingly quite legal. "Up to 50% off on all our stock" is one of them - so long as one item had that price it'd work. "50% off used unwashed bath towels from the homeless shelter, all other items normal price" is legal in many places.

            And then, well for many people an outright statement like you suggest would be rightly seen as a lie - every one deceives at some stage (even when some of us really prefer not to we still do, annoying part of being human :( ). For a company spokesman to say a company has never engaged in deceptive practices is plain wrong, if it is being interpreted as no one at the company ever told a white lie, exceeded their spending limit, make a product sound better than it really was or was going to be fixed without issue - and so many other things that could be done in the name of the company with or without the sanction of the boss.

            "They've not been convicted of deceptive practice" is probably more honest and straightforward than "they've never acted in a deceptive way", even if the latter is actually true.

            But really.. It was their lawyer speaking so I must agree, weasels were speaking... :)

    2. ratfox
      Angel

      Re: no smoke without fire

      It seems to me the ruling does not say that Google was unfair to Glibmedia; only that it was applying the rules inconsistently. A bit like people suddenly get booted off YouTube and you never get why that other guy is allowed to stay on.

  6. nijam

    I think you're all reading too much into this.

    Since long before Google was founded, France (and obviously, they're not the only culprits) have been rigging rules and regulations to their own benefit.

    Plus ca change, eh? Or should that be quelle surprise?

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