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How Google Keeps Publishers On A String



A new paper presents evidence to support a potential antitrust case against Google based on its apparent dominant position and alleged anti-competitive conduct in the digital advertising market in the US. It alleges that Google has used it search engine and its ‘strategic secrecy’ to obtain control and ownership at multiple points in the digital advertising space.

Google has effectively taken over every function of the digital advertising space that connects advertisers to publishers, according to the Omidyar Network, who support initiatives against both government and corporate surveillance, including The Intercept.

“Tech giants such as Google deliver widespread conveniences and value to their users through their significant reach, features, and services. But their unchecked market dominance, and their social and political power pose serious threats to our individual freedoms, economies, and democracies,” writes Omidyar Network in a blogpost about the paper.

The paper itself, A Roadmap for Digital Advertising Monopolization Case Against Google, shows that Google’s power spans search advertising (advertising that appears in response to a search on a search engine) and display advertising (advertising that shows up when a user opens a third-party website). It uses multiple examples to underscore how Google has effectively taken over every function of the digital advertising space that connects advertisers to publishers, and used its data advantage, acquisitions, and market power to exclude its rivals, weaken original content providers, reduce transparency, and charge high prices. The authors not only showcase Google’s anticompetitive practices, they detail the specific harms to advertisers, publishers, and ultimately consumers.

The conclusion is harsh:

“Google, largely through acquisitions, acquired all the necessary building blocks to amass dominance. Most notably, it acquired companies whose assets allowed it, and it alone, to occupy the entirety of the ad tech stack connecting publishers to advertisers. It then used its monopoly power in search, and the exclusive data it harvests from its family of consumer-facing products and its related power in analytics, to coerce publishers and advertisers into using Google’s ad tech services and relying on the Google exchange to make purchases and sales.

Google has used its structural advantage—it acts as sellers’ agent, buyers’ agent, and auctioneer—to keep for itself a vast amount of the money advertisers spend, and that publishers may well deserve in a competitive market. Google protects its market power by denying interoperability to ad tech rivals and by raising their costs, leaving publishers on the open web with effectively one choice in ad serving.”

Get the full paper