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Exclusive: Comcast is emerging as new Google antitrust enemy sources



SAN FRANCISCO / NEW YORK (Reuters) – Comcast Corp ( CMCSA.O ), one of America's largest media and communications companies, is wading into the epic regulatory burden on large technology companies such as Google, according to people familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: The NBC and Comcast logos appear at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in downtown Manhattan in New York, USA, February 27, 2018. REUTERS / Lucas Jackson / File Photo

Behind the Closed Doors of a Congressional Task Force Last Month Accused Comcast & # 39; s Video Advertising Department FreeWheel Alphabet Inc ( GOOGL.O ) Google to use privacy considerations as a pretext to limit FreeWheel's ability to sell ads on behalf of customers' YouTube channels, four people briefed on the discussion so.

Comcast may be drawing a line in the sand and will avoid letting Google do for the video ad business what it has done for the online advertising market.

It is the first time one of the most powerful companies in the United States, with its own muscular lobbying apparatus in Washington, is taking sides in the antitrust battle that is crashing the world's largest online ad seller. Google's competitors are warning lawmakers that new privacy regulations could help Google expand its dominance.

"FreeWheel wanted to embrace a solution that allowed them to continue to serve their customers meaningfully when publishing their content on YouTube, as it had for over a decade on that platform," Comcast said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the actions to remove or impair FreeWheel's opportunities on YouTube are falling well."

Comcast's concerns have not led to a complete attack on Google, though Comcast has contacted other technology companies to discuss the threat from Google, two other sources said.

The issues raised by Comcast and its subsidiary have been repeated widely in the cable and advertising technology industries. Most companies that claim Google has unfairly squeezed them out have been reluctant to comment because they rely on Google services and fear retaliation.

But Comcast, which owns the media company NBC, Universal Pictures and the Internet service Xfinity, is a big spender on state and federal lobbying and election campaigns and a veteran in political organization.

House Judiciary Committee, U.S. The Department of Justice and a coalition of 50 state attorneys general have asked Google for information on advertising in recent weeks as they begin to investigate potential antitrust violations.

Google declined to comment on Comcast's recent actions, but has said it is cooperating with the surveys and that it faces strong competition in advertising, including from Comcast.

PRIVACY PUSH

The excitement of FreeWheel with Google stems from a unique deal that was signed in 2009 when YouTube attempted to burn its image with clips from well-known TV channels.

The agreement allows media companies such as NBC, Turner, now owned by AT&T Inc ( TN ), and Viacom Inc ( VIAB.O ) to sell ads alongside the content in YouTube, FreeWheel uses technology instead of Google's competing tools, ensuring access to their simple, preferred system across different streaming sites and apps.

FreeWheel is the go-to video ad server because of its experience, said a FreeWheel client, and talked about anonymity.

But last year, Google FreeWheel shut down YouTube in Europe, citing the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which put new demands on companies looking to share consumer data.

In the United States, Google has allowed FreeWheel's continued use, provided tests this month, the dozens of media companies that depend on it, will be barred from accessing user data for privacy reasons, said one source. The data reduction could make FreeWheel's system less attractive to media companies and their advertisers, and potentially make a shift to Google, the source said.

Google said that a small percentage of YouTube revenue is affected, and that it has partnered with FreeWheel to restore access in Europe and preserve it in the United States.

A FreeWheel representative raised the issue during a private hearing in September by the Senate Judiciary Committee's technical working group, led by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, the sources said about the discussion.

Blackburn, which is holding hearings to inform potential privacy laws, told C-SPAN last week that a privacy law to be weighed must preserve competition better than EU regulations have. Her spokeswoman declined to comment on FreeWheel's comments on the task force.

INTERNET TRACKING

The conflict plays out on another front. Google said last month that it is experimenting with encrypting Internet traffic for Chrome users, and Android has similar capabilities in its latest version.

The move, technically known as DNS over HTTPS, increases users 'privacy and security by restricting some companies, including Internet service providers, from tracking users' browsing.

FILE PHOTO: A Google sign seen during WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS / Aly Song / File Photo

Internet experts say that Google is using the new technology widely and would strictly paralyze parental control tools and stifle child pornography online. Trade associations for cable and wireless companies including Comcast told Congress last month that the move could "possibly exclude competition in advertising and other industries."

Comcast told Reuters that it was open to working with Google on the issue in a way that ensures different security and parental controls are not violated, but that "any unilateral action limiting customer choices will not work."

Google spokesman Scott Westover said that the proposal maintains "all existing filters and controls" and that "any claim that we try to become the centralized encrypted DNS provider is inaccurate."

Reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Sheila Dang in New York; Further reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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