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17 January 2022
Google: allegations of ad price manipulation unsealed
Previously redacted details of a lawsuit allege that the advertising company Google, which controls significant interests on both the buy and sell side, operated a program of diminishing ad sales to publishers, while increasing the prices buyers paid then keeping the difference. Google says the arguments lack legal merit.
Why it matters
Despite online advertising’s inherent complexity, Google controls the biggest tools across the ecosystem, drawing comparisons to a bank that simultaneously owns the stock exchange. Should Google lose any of the several cases against it, the shape of the online ad industry could end up looking very different.
The Wall Street Journal reports new details from a case originally filed in December 2020 by several attorneys general, but which contained a number of redacted statements that evidence the states’ case that Google abuses a monopoly position and has harmed competitors, publishers, and, as an extension of ad-buyers, the consumers to whom higher costs would be passed on.
Unsealed in a New York court, the key revelations include documents based on internal correspondence that appear to show Google employees referring to the practice as “insider information”.
It comes at a time of intense pressure on the company, as the state case joins a federal antitrust case brought by the Justice Department.
In the Senate, a bipartisan bill is moving through the legislative process which could have serious implications for the company, which would suddenly find it illegal to advantage its own businesses on its platforms.
Meanwhile, in Europe an ambitious new law, the Digital Markets Act, is gathering pace which specifically targets “gatekeepers” like Google, and is expected to contain explicit limits on self-preferencing.