Italian regulators have opened an investigation into Google for alleged abuse of its dominant position in the country's online ad market.
The Italian Competition Authority said it suspects the US tech giant of using its vast amounts of collected data to prevent rivals operators from competing effectively.
The investigation follows a complaint filed by an Italian digital advertising lobby group last year and adds to the global scrutiny facing the Silicon Valley company.
Google is being questioned for "adversely affecting consumers", according to a statement by the Autorita' Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM).
Investigators are focusing on the availability and use of data for display ads, the space that publishers and website owners make available to sell advertising content.
The Italian Competition Authority is probing whether Google, controlled by Alphabet Inc, might have violated Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The tech giant is alleged to have used tracking elements that allowed its ad broker services "to achieve a targeting capability that some equally efficient competitors are unable to replicate,'' the authority said.
The watchdog said that it carried out a joint inspection of Google's offices with Italian tax police on Tuesday.
Italy's online advertising market was worth more than €3.3 billion in 2019, with display ad revenue accounting for €1.2 billion euros of the total.
The watchdog says that online advertising sales are the second most important source of revenue in the media sector.
Reduced competition in the market could starve news sites and publishers of resources, resulting in lower quality online content and discouraging innovation, the authority has said.
Euronews has contacted Google for a statement on the investigation.
The news comes one week after the U.S. Justice Department also filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company had stifled in search advertising.
Last year, European Union regulators also fined Google €1.49 billion for freezing out rivals in the online ad market.