Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

More Details Revealed in States’ Antitrust Suit Against Google

Russell Brandom, the Verge:

On Friday, a coalition of state attorneys general led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a new antitrust complaint (PDF) against Google, giving more details into the company’s alleged collusion with Facebook in programmatic ad markets. The filing was first reported by Politico.

… which put the public document behind its paywall, is how that sentence should end. The full docket is on Court Listener, and that would also be an acceptable link. Making people hunt for court filings — or pay Politico, for some reason — is inexcusable.

At least Brandom posted it, and reports:

In one particularly uncomfortable passage, the complaint quotes a 2015 email in which “Google employees expressed fear that Google’s exchange might ‘actually have to compete’ with other exchanges at some point in the future.

Much of the case rests on the concessions Google allegedly made to Facebook in the wake of the Jedi Blue arrangement, including lower fees and longer timeout limits in exchange bidding. One newly unredacted portion of the complaint claims that the concessions gave Facebook a clear advantage in winning auctions.

Tripp Mickle and Keach Hagey, of the Wall Street Journal, document an offence a little more grievous than their refusal to link to the updated filing anywhere in this article:

Google misled publishers and advertisers for years about the pricing and processes of its ad auctions, creating secret programs that deflated sales for some companies while increasing prices for buyers, according to newly unredacted allegations and details in a lawsuit by state attorneys general.

Meanwhile, 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 newly unredacted complaint alleges. The documents cite internal correspondence in which Google employees said some of these practices amounted to growing its business through “insider information.”

The allegations as presented by the attorneys general make my eyes glaze over a little because of the many acronyms and technologies involved. I should also note they have not yet been tested in court. But if they are true, it means the online advertising duopoly is rigged to the detriment of advertisers, the web, and our privacy. Remember: both Facebook and Google claim they need to build behavioural profiles on each of us for targeting purposes. But they are allegedly exploiting their position to configure the market for their benefit and nobody else’s.

I tried checking for differences between this filing and the last, but no tool I used did a great job because there are so many changes. One little thing I noticed is that Missouri’s Attorney General is a guy named Eric Schmitt. Nice touch.

Update: Leah Nylen put together a good — and mercifully short — Twitter thread about the allegations in that Journal article.