Bulletins

Top lawmakers are going after Google's online ads business

Sens. Mike Lee and Amy Klobuchar want to break up major digital ad exchanges from publisher- and advertiser-focused platforms. Google rules all three.

The Google logo displayed on a wall

A bipartisan group of senators want to break up the powerful parts of Google's ad business.

Photo: Kai Wenzel/Unsplash

A bipartisan group of senators wants to force Google to spin off huge chunks of the online ads business at the heart of its profits.

A bill introduced Thursday, led by Republican Sen. Mike Lee, would ban major digital exchanges that match buyers and sellers of online ad space from also operating technology that allows publishers to manage their part of the sales and advertisers to control their purchases. Google is the biggest player in all three areas.


The legislation would also stop the owners of platforms for publishers from operating a similar system for advertisers, or vice versa, regardless of whether they also run an ad exchange.

Lee, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee focused on competition, was joined on the legislation by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the panel. Sens. Ted Cruz and Richard Blumenthal have also signed on. The bill comes as Klobuchar is also hoping to advance two other tech-competition bills that Lee, a critic of Big Tech who is nonetheless an antitrust traditionalist, has not joined.

The bill is an answer to complaints that Google abuses its presence to give advantages to its own customers, route transactions through the systems where it charges fees and keep the whole arrangement opaque to the detriment of other players. Such allegations have resulted in one of the multistate antitrust cases against Google, which is led by Texas.

The lawsuit has led to claims that Google was charging publishers up to four times what other exchanges would and leveraging privileged historical bid data of advertisers. Even inside of Google, according to the complaint, the arrangement was compared to a tie-up between a major bank and the New York Stock Exchange.

The legislation could also prompt divestitures by Meta, according to the lawmakers, and could even touch Amazon or Apple.

Google said in a statement that the legislation "would hurt publishers and advertisers, lower ad quality, and create new privacy risks," according to the Wall Street Journal. A bipartisan House companion is also expected soon, according to the report.

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Bulletins