Google and Facebook CEOs allegedly signed off on an illegal ad deal

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A new report via BuzzFeed News shows unredacted claims from a 2020 antitrust lawsuit that say Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook (Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg both signed off on illegal ad deals.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

This illegal ad deal is said to have given Facebook special privileges when using the Google ad platform AdSense. Newly unredacted court documents filed on Friday and gone over by BuzzFeed News purportedly prove the claims.

The allegation is from a complaint first filed in December 2020 by Texas and several other states against Google for engaging in “false, deceptive, or misleading acts” while operating its buy-and-sell auction system for digital ads. In the complaint, state attorneys general claim Google illegally teamed up with Facebook, its fiercest competitor in the digital advertising market, for a 2018 deal Google dubbed “Jedi Blue” in a reference to Star Wars.

Prior to the alleged deal, Facebook appeared to threaten Google’s dominance in the market by backing an ad-buying technique called “header bidding.”

“Google understood the severity of the threat to its position if Facebook were to enter the market and support header bidding,” the complaint reads. “To diffuse this threat, Google made overtures to Facebook.” In the end, Facebook backed off after Google agreed to give the social network “information, speed, and other advantages” in auctions run by Google, the complaint says.

The newly unredacted version of the complaint shows that the deal was allegedly struck at the highest levels of the companies, a noteworthy level of cooperation from two of the most powerful companies in the world.

BuzzFeed News
Meta Store Google and Facebook
Meta is now the parent company of Facebook.

BuzzFeed News goes on to say that Zuckerberg knew of the arrangement but needed to meet with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to discuss it before signing off. Both companies issued statements on the matter calling the claims “inaccurate.”

“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said in a statement. “And contrary to AG Paxton’s claims, the fact of this agreement was never a secret — it was well-publicized. It simply enables FAN [Facebook Audience Network] and the advertisers it represents to participate in Open Bidding, just like over 25 other partners do.”


“Meta’s non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements,” Meta spokesperson Stephen Peters said in a statement. “These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all.”


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