According to court documents filed in the United States, top Google and Facebook officials were actively involved in authorising an allegedly illegal 2018 contract to cement their dominance of the internet advertising industry.
The documents, which are part of an antitrust action brought against Google by a group of US states, make serious allegations against Big Tech behemoths that have long been accused of holding monopolies.
According to the states, Google aimed to eliminate competition by manipulating ad auctions, a complicated mechanism that determines which advertisements appear on websites based on anonymised profiles of internet users.
The legal filings in a New York court clearly allude to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s parent firm Alphabet, as well as Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, despite their identities being blacked out.
The complaint stated that “Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally signed off on the terms of the deal,”
The economic conditions were communicated to Facebook’s CEO, who was told: “‘We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward.’” according to the papers.
On Friday, Google did not respond to a request for comment, although it has flatly denied rigging the digital ad market.
For the third time, the lawsuit was altered to remove Facebook and its parent corporation Meta from the list of defendants.
“Meta’s non-exclusive bidding deal with Google, as well as the equivalent partnerships we have with other bidding platforms,” a spokeswoman told AFP, “have helped to improve competition for ad spots.”
“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all.”
According to the complaint, the agreement was internally referred to as “Jedi Blue,” a reference to Facebook’s logo.
“No sensible developer would seek to have his auctions rigged by the market’s two largest buyers,” the complaint argues.
“As a result, Google and Facebook swore their agreement’s terms to secrecy.” The antitrust claim is one of three that have been brought against Google on several fronts.
The US government filed a landmark case against Google in October of last year, accusing the company of maintaining a “illegal monopoly” in internet search and advertising.
It’s the country’s most significant antitrust case in decades, and it might spell the end for the Silicon Valley juggernaut.
While Google’s ad revenue has climbed, its share of the booming US online ad business is ebbing due to competition from Facebook, Amazon, and others, according to eMarketer.