Meta makes advertising promises to escape France’s antitrust

It’s “a world first”, we welcome the Competition Authority (ADLC). The French gendarme has obtained from Meta (the main company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) a series of voluntary pledges in favor of its competitors in the online advertising market – in particular providers of intermediation services in advertising such as French Criteo.

Because Facebook removed access to certain features to better target ads on its platform and brutally excluded it from its partner program, tricolor adtech hijacked the Authority in 2019. Too many suspicious steps, while the giant Californian continues to vertically integrate the advertising chain which puts it in direct competition with Criteo or any other technical intermediary in this market.

One year of negotiations

Following this unprecedented complaint, Mark Zuckerberg’s group withdrew. To kill the lawsuits, Facebook last year proposed to the French Authority to change of its own free will some of the behaviors denounced. It took a year of negotiations to reach an agreement announced on Thursday.

In fact, Meta will from now on subject access to its partner program on transparent and objective conditions. The group will directly reunite people who, like Criteo, have benefited from it in the past. It will also give advertising professionals a new free interface to better personalize ads on its networks.

Finally, it will train its sales teams to prevent them from destroying competition with advertisers. Adherence to these rules will be monitored by the ADLC, thanks to detailed monitoring by an independent agent – which Facebook will pay for over the next five years.

There is no formal offense

The agreement has a huge advantage for Meta, whose advertising activities are on the sights of Brussels and Washington: it is not accompanied by any penalties, or even a call to order because possible violations do not qualify, more yet to be possibly dominant. group position.

ADLC certainly says that Meta is “likely” to hold such a choke, with 50% of the market for online advertising not linked to searches and 90% of it for advertising on social networks (75 % if we include YouTube). The gendarme also points out “skills implemented by Meta that are likely to cause competition concerns”. But he has not formally denounced any violation.

If Benoît Coeuré, the new president of the ADLC, stops his whistle but keeps it from blowing, it is for a simple reason: he would rather see the competitive situation restored as soon as possible, than give his services to a potentially slower, more dangerous and ultimately less efficient litigation process. “We consider that Meta’s promises kill competition concerns”, the Autorité explains – while referring to that in the event of non -compliance, “we will take our stick and hit very hard.”

“Business as usual”

Even the plaintiff, Criteo, finds his account. In a press release, the tricolor adtech champion “welcomed” the ADLC decision. Contacted by “Les Echos”, he specified “to focus, at this stage, only on re-establishing its partnership with Meta for the benefit of its customers”. In the immediate future, he will not take the case to court to try to get compensation for the damage sustained.

This priority given to returning to “business as usual” on Facebook is easily explained. In recent years, Criteo has had a series of difficulties: stricter regulations on the use of personal data, termination being recorded or the arrival of third-party cookies in Apple and Google browsers … The historic its activity, re-targeting advertising (“retargeting”), suffered badly.

The group has certainly set its sights on “retail media” (inventories and advertising products on the merchant sites of major retailers). It prevents. Since climbing to $ 3.55 billion in market capitalization in May 2017, Criteo has seen its value melt by more than half. That is why it is eager to rely on the Facebook ecosystem to boost its economic activities.

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