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Google, Facebook CEOs colluded in online ad sales, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

Google, Facebook CEOs colluded in online ad sales, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity
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Google and Facebook executives colluded in online advertising sales (Image is for representational purposes only – iStock)

Recently unedited documents from a state-led antitrust lawsuit against Google accuse the search giant of colluding with rival Facebook to manipulate online ad sales. The lawsuit alleges that the chief executives of both companies were aware of and signed off on the deal. The revised original lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anti-competitive behavior” and of collaborating with the social networking giant. But the unaltered version provides details about the involvement of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in approving the deal. Since then, Facebook has renamed itself Meta.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was “candid that this is a strategically big deal” in a 2018 email thread about the deal that included Facebook’s CEO. While the names of the Facebook executives are still missing in the lawsuit, their addresses are visible.
When the two sides worked out the terms of the agreement, the team “sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, according to the lawsuit.

“We are about to sign and need your consent to move forward,” the email read, according to the complaint. The complaint said Zuckerberg wanted to meet with Sandberg and his other executives before making a decision.

In a statement, Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit was “full of inaccurate information and lacking legal merit.”

The complaint says the two companies signed the agreement in September 2018. Sandberg, who was previously the head of Google’s advertising business, and Pichai personally signed the deal, according to the states’ complaint.

Meta spokesperson Chris Sgroe said Friday that the company’s ad serving agreement with Google and similar agreements with other bidding platforms “helped increase competition for ad placements.”

“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while compensating publishers fairly, leading to better outcomes for everyone,” said Sgro.

Internally, Google used the code phrase “Jedi Blue” to refer to the 2018 agreement, according to the lawsuit. Google has kept this code phrase secret.

Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s claim that Pichai agreed to the deal with Facebook was “inaccurate.”

“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” he said, adding that the agreement “wasn’t a secret at all.”

The lawsuit is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and joined by attorneys general in Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.


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