Facebook and Google and CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, were allegedly aware of and approved a deal to collaborate on the potential manipulation of advertising sales, according to newly revealed US court documents.
The recent documents that were revealed on Friday, were filed as part of an anti-trust lawsuit against Google brought by the attorneys general of multiple US states. The anti-trust lawsuit was first filed in December 2020 and claimed Google misled publishers and advertisers about the price and process of advertising auctions.
According to the states' accusations, Google sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions—the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which ads appear on web pages based on the anonymized profiles of internet users.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit alleges that “Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers that an ad cost and used the pool of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly”.
The Journal reported the lawsuit also claims executives at both Facebook, now known as Meta, and Google signed off on a deal to allegedly assure that Facebook would bid on, and win, a certain percentage of ads.
According to the lawsuit, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was “explicit that ‘this is a big deal strategically’” in a 2018 email thread about the deal that included Facebook’s CEO.
When the two sides worked out the terms of the agreement, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, the lawsuit states.
"Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally signed off on the terms of the deal," the lawsuit said. However, a Google spokesperson told the AP that while the deal was not a secret, it was inaccurate to say that Pichai approved it.
“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement, Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit”.
Meta spokesperson Chris Sgro said on Friday that the company’s ad bidding agreement with Google and similar agreements it has with other bidding platforms “have helped to increase competition for ad placements”.
“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all,” Sgro said.
It's worth noting that Meta is being sued for £2.3bn in a class action lawsuit that claims 44 million Facebook users in the UK had their data exploited after signing up to the social network.
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