Google and Facebook CEOs colluded in selling online ads, lawsuit says

Recently unredacted documents from a state-led antitrust lawsuit against Google accuse the search giant of colluding with rival Facebook to manipulate online ad sales. The CEOs of both companies were aware of the agreement and signed it, according to the lawsuit.

The original, redacted lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anti-competitive conduct” and associating with the social media giant. But the unredacted version offers details of how Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were involved in approving the deal. Facebook has since renamed itself Meta.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was “explicit that ‘this is a big strategic issue'” in a 2018 thread about the deal that included the Facebook CEO. While the names of Facebook executives are still redacted in the suit, their titles are visible.

When the two parties defined the terms of the agreement, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, the lawsuit states.

“We are almost ready to sign and need your approval to move forward,” the email reads, according to the complaint. Zuckerberg wanted to meet with Sandberg and his other executives before making a decision, the complaint states.

In a statement, Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit was “full of inaccuracies and lacking in legal merit.”

In September 2018, the complaint states, the two companies signed the agreement. Sandberg, who was once the head of Google’s advertising business, and Pichai personally signed the agreement, according to the states complaint.

Meta spokesman Chris Sgro said Friday that the company’s ad auction deal with Google and similar deals it has with other auction platforms “helped increase competition for advertising placements”.

“These business relationships allow Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while compensating publishers fairly, which translates to better results for everyone,” Sgro said.

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

Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s allegation that Pichai approved the deal with Facebook “is not accurate.”

“We sign hundreds of deals every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” he said, adding that the deal “was never a secret.” .

The lawsuit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and has been joined by attorneys general from 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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Marilyn J. Hernandez