The most senior executives of Google and Meta (Facebook's parent company) are directly involved in an illegal agreement signed in 2018 to consolidate their domination of the online advertising market, according to accusations brought by some US states.
A coalition led by Texas filed a new version of the lawsuit initially launched against Google in December 2020 in a New York court on Friday.
An anti-competitive strategy
According to their accusations, the online search giant sought to foreclose competition by manipulating ad auctions, a state-of-the-art system that determines which advertisements appear on web pages based on the user's anonymized profile. .
The legal documents revealed on Friday clearly refer to Google bosses Sundar Pichai and Philipp Schindler, as well as Sheryl Sandberg for Facebook, even though her name is crossed out with a thick black line.
Google CEO reportedly approves deal
“These negotiations resulted in September 2018 in an agreement between Google and Facebook signed by Philipp Schindler, vice president and director of sales and operations of the advertising branch of Google, and Mrs. [name crossed out], director of operations and member of the board of directors of Facebook, who had herself for a time directed advertising at Google”, detail the state prosecutors.
“Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally approved the terms of the agreement,” they add.
The complaint cites an email from Sheryl Sandberg to Mark Zuckerberg, where she describes the project as "strategically very important."
According to the prosecution, Google was concerned that an alternative system for allocating advertising space was being adopted too widely, allowing site publishers to circumvent its commissions.
The Californian group would then have convinced its neighbor to form an alliance.
Google defends its position
"The non-exclusive agreement with Google and similar agreements we have with other auction platforms have helped increase competition for ad placements," a Meta spokesperson said.
These professional relationships allow Meta to offer more value to advertisers while compensating publishers fairly: everyone wins.
Google, for its part, denounced a complaint "full of inaccuracies and without legal basis".
“Online advertising is a fiercely competitive industry, which has lowered advertising costs and given publishers and advertisers more choice.
We will continue to strongly defend ourselves against these baseless allegations in court,” a spokeswoman said on Saturday.
More than half of global digital advertising between them
On the role played by Sundar Pichai, she clarified that "every year hundreds of agreements that do not require the approval of the CEO" are signed.
“It was no different in this case.
And contrary to the assertions of the Attorney General, this agreement was never a secret (…)”.
The two tech giants, like Apple and Amazon, are accused of abuse of dominant position by a growing number of authorities in the United States.
Google holds 28.6% of the global digital advertising market in 2021, according to the firm eMarketer, just ahead of its neighbor Facebook and its 23.7% share of the cake.
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