Google, Facebook CEOs colluded to sell online ads, lawsuit alleges

New unedited 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 deal and signed it, the lawsuit alleges.

The original redacted lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anticompetitive behavior” and of collaborating with the social networking giant. But the unedited version provides details on the involvement of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in approving the deal. Facebook has since rebranded itself as Meta.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was “explicit that ‘this is strategically a big deal'” in a 2018 email thread about the deal involving Facebook’s CEO. the suit, their titles are visible.

As the two sides worked out the terms of the agreement, the team “sent an email directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, the lawsuit states.

“We are almost ready to sign and need your approval to proceed,” the email read, 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 “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal value”.

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

Meta spokesperson Chris Sgro said Friday that the company’s ad bidding agreement with Google and similar agreements 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, resulting in better outcomes for everyone,” said Sgro.

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

Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s claim that Pichai approved the deal with Facebook is “false”.

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

The lawsuit is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Attorneys General of 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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