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Google denies Facebook collusion claims in new court filing and blog post

Google has a motion to decline the antitrust complaint filed last week alleging that it colluded with Facebook to manipulate programmatic advertising markets.

“The plaintiffs’ complaint — applauded by a handful of Google’s rivals who have failed to invest well, compete successfully or innovate consistently — may serve the narrow interests of those rivals,” Google said in the motion, “but it also threatens to stifle the dynamism that drives Google and other companies to deliver the products that businesses and consumers depend on every day.”

The antitrust case, originally filed in November, was led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, and has gradually uncovered more allegations through a series of revised complaints. The complaint filed last week contained very specific details about Google’s alleged collusion with Facebook, including a project nicknamed “Jedi Blue,” which the lawsuit alleges was designed to restrict ad header bidding practices.

The new complaint is based on internal emails showing that the Jedi Blue deal was reviewed with input from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Meta/Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CFO Sheryl Sandberg. But Google has denied that the deal involved anti-competitive behavior, saying it was approved without Pichai’s direct approval.

Adam Cohen, director of economic policy at Google, wrote in a blog post to the new response that the allegations are “more than light” and that Google does not think they meet the legal standard to take the case to court. “The complaint misrepresents our company, our products and our motives, and we decide to dismiss the complaint because no credible antitrust claims have been filed,” he wrote in the post.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the allegation that publishers have been forced to use Google’s ad server to access the ad exchange. But Google says this claim is false, “and AG Paxton offers no evidence to prove otherwise.” The company is also fighting allegations that it has stopped rivals from using its Open Bidding program and that it manipulated ad auctions to favor Facebook. In addition, Cohen says, the lawsuit is based on outdated information “unrelated to our current products or operations.”

The new complaint cited a 2015 email in which “Google employees expressed fear that Google’s exchange might ‘actually have to compete’ with other exchanges at some point in the future.” A new unedited portion of the complaint also alleges that Google made concessions to Facebook as part of Jedi Blue, giving Facebook an advantage in auctions.

In its request for dismissal, Google states that the lawsuit does not illustrate any anti-competitive behavior. “Despite accumulating a long collection of grievances, each one amounts to a plea for Google to share its data or design its products in a way that would help its rivals,” the motion said. “The Sherman Act does not require such a thing. None of the behaviors identified in the [complaint] falls into the narrow exception to the general rule that any company gets to choose who it wants to do business with, and courts are rightly skeptical about how a company designs its own products, especially when innovation creates more choice for consumers.”

Google also disputes Paxton’s claim that the company secretly colluded with Facebook Audience Network through its Open Bidding agreement, with Cohen noting that the agreement is not exclusive and that it “announced FAN’s participation as one of more than 25 partners in our Open Bidding program, all of whom have signed their own agreements to participate.”

Cohen added that Facebook’s participation in the agreement will benefit advertisers and publishers. “In fact, as a FAN were not As part of Open Bidding, AG Paxton may have claimed that we were preventing a rival from accessing our products and depriving publishers of additional revenue,” he wrote in the post.

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