Lawsuit: Google and Facebook CEOs Colluded in Online Ad Sales

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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.

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, the suit alleges.

The original drafted lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anti-competitive conduct” and partnering with the social media giant. But the unredacted version offers details about the involvement of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in approving the deal. Since then, Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was “explicit that ‘this is a big deal strategically'” in a 2018 email thread about the deal that included Facebook’s CEO. While the names of the Facebook executives are still redacted on the suit, their titles are visible.

When the two sides agreed to the terms of the deal, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, according to the suit.

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

In a statement, Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit is “riddled with inaccuracies and lacks legal merit.”

In September 2018, the complaint says, 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 bidding agreement with Google and similar deals it has with other bidding platforms “have helped increase competition for ad placements.”

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

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

Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s allegation that Pichai approved the Facebook deal 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 is 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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