Google and Meta face antitrust probes from regulators in Europe and the UK

EU and UK regulators have opened antitrust investigations into Google and Meta, formerly Facebook, over the tech giants’ 2018 advertising deal.

The parallel investigations, announced on Friday, will examine whether the so-called “Jedi Blue” agreement between the two companies has hindered competition in the markets for online display advertising services. Online display ads are display ads that appear on websites, mobile apps, and social media.

According to a group of US state attorneys general In January, the Jedi Blue deal allowed Google and Meta to rig auctions for online ads and illegally fix prices, with consequences for small businesses. Both companies denied the allegations at the time.

Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, said in a statement on Friday: “We are concerned that Google has partnered with Meta to put obstacles in the way of competitors who provide leading online display advertising services to publishers. »

“If one company has a stranglehold on a certain area, it can make it difficult for start-ups and small businesses to break into the market – and can ultimately reduce customer choice,” he added.

The regulator said it wanted to determine whether tech giants have restricted or prevented the adoption of “header auction services,” which allow news publishers to sell their online ad space to multiple buyers at the same time, rather than receiving offers individually.

Many publishers rely on online display advertising to fund online consumer content, Margrethe Vestager, head of competition policy for the European Commission, said in a statement.

“Through the so-called ‘Jedi Blue’ agreement between Google and Meta, a competing technology to Google’s Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim of weakening it and excluding it from the ad display market. on publisher websites and apps,” she said.

“If confirmed by our investigation, it would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market to the detriment of competing ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers,” added Vestager.

A Meta spokesperson said: “Meta’s non-exclusive auction agreement with Google and similar agreements we have with other auction platforms have helped increase competition for ad placements. These business relationships allow Meta to deliver more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in better results for everyone. We will cooperate with both investigations. »

Google did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment, but the search giant has already strongly rejected the allegations in the US lawsuit, with economic policy director Adam Cohen calling it out in a 2021 blog post a “deceptive attack”. A Google spokesperson said in January the company would file a motion to dismiss the case and said it remained “full of inaccuracies and legal merit.”

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