Facebook & Google Accused Of ‘Secret Deal’ Causing Unfair Competition Edge

Chief executives of Google and Facebook personally oversaw a 2018 deal that advantaged Facebook on Google’s ad auctions, a group of state attorneys general alleged in court documents Friday.

The complaint also alleges Google manipulated its ad pricing tiers under a secret program called Project Bernanke that removed second-place bids on ad auctions. It allowed Google to pocket part of the difference between first and third-place bids while also harming publishers that rely on ad revenue and who could have made more from higher bids.

Under the agreement with Facebook, Google and Facebook illegally collaborated to decrease prices paid to publishers, cut out rival ad networks and manipulate ad auctions operated by publishers, the complaint says.

The new filing shows just how far up the arrangement, alleged in earlier filings, went. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, whose name is redacted in the complaint, called the agreement “a big deal strategically” in an email including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose name was also redacted. Sandberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai signed off on the deal’s terms, the states allege, noting Sandberg was previously a high-ranking executive in Google’s advertising business. Sandberg’s signoff was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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