May 23, 2016 / 6:30 PM / 3 years ago

French competition watchdog launches online ad inquiry

PARIS, May 23 (Reuters) - The French competition authority launched an inquiry on Monday on the exploitation of Internet users’ data for the online advertising industry, putting major personal data collectors such as Alphabet Inc’s Google in its sights.

The inquiry, which includes a public consultation starting early next year, will result in non-binding recommendations but may become the basis of a formal anti-trust investigation if infringements are observed.

“Can everyone access these data, which are fundamental inputs of this business activity? Are there exclusion strategies being put in place?” Bruno Lasserre, president of the France’s anti-trust regulator, told a press conference.

Google, the world’s most popular Web search engine, collects data globally from Internet users and companies via the free professional and personal services it offers online and on smart mobile devices.

Its mobile operating system, Android, can be found on about 80 percent of smart mobile devices, EU data shows.

This means Google has a “privileged position” in terms of data collection, said Mathieu Guennec, the French competition authority’s lead investigator.

Guennec also cited Google’s presence on both the buy-side and sell-side of the online advertising business through different platforms, raising questions about the market power the U.S. company could draw from this integrated approach.

No-one at Google in France was immediately available for comment.

Other big data collectors cited in the French regulator’s written presentations included Facebook and Twitter .

The French competition authority’s announcement comes a month after the European Union charged Google with using Android to squeeze out rivals.

Google also faces its first EU anti-trust sanction this year over allegations that its Web search results favour its own shopping service, people familiar with the matter said in April. .

Separately, Germany’s cartel office said in March that it was investigating Facebook for suspected abuse of market power over breaches of data protection laws.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, editing by David Evans

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