Bulletins

Zuckerberg and Pichai signed off on ad deal in states' Google case

The alleged deal to give Facebook an advantage in Google ad auctions is at the heart of a complaint led by Texas.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

Google faces a series of antitrust complaints.

Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An agreement between Google and Facebook over online ads that is the focus of a multistate antitrust lawsuit got approval at the highest level of those companies, according to a third revised complaint unveiled Friday in federal court.


Before Facebook (now known as Meta) signed the deal with Google to get a leg up in ad auctions, company officials emailed Mark Zuckerberg seeking his approval, according to the documents. The filings identify the CEO only by his title while blacking out his name. Sheryl Sandberg, who had told Zuckerberg the potential agreement was "a big deal strategically," actually signed the paperwork in 2018, according to the new complaint, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai had "also personally signed off on the terms of the deal."

The documents also identify Sandberg, the Meta COO, only by her title, as well as her former position as head of Google Ads.

Amid a flurry of government competition cases against both Google and Facebook, the lawsuit, which is led by Texas, landed at the end of 2020. It contends that Google inked the agreement so that Facebook would back off of its support for a technique that publishers used to avoid Google properties.

Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels said the company would appeal the complaint and that it was "still full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit," according to POLITICO. He also touted "vigorous competition in online advertising." In a statement from Meta spokesman Christopher Sgro, the company, which is not a defendant in the suit, said it has similar deals that enable it "to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers.”

The three complaints in the ads-focused case, and court-ordered removal of redactions, have provided a series of insights into the often opaque heart of Google's profits — its operation of the biggest tools for buying and selling online ad space.

The latest filings also provided more details about an initiative known internally at Google as Project Bernanke, which allegedly used "privileged access to detailed information regarding what advertisers historically bid to help advertisers using Google Ads beat the advertisers bidding through competitors' ad buying tools."

According to the new documents, the project also secretly removed bids from ad auctions, sometimes resulting in publishers getting 40% less revenue while advertisers paid the same prices. Google allegedly put the difference toward pumping up the bids of the advertisers that used its in-house exchange and boosting the win rates of the company's systems.

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