Google and Facebook CEOs worked together to sell online advertising, lawsuit allegations

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Newly unedited documents from a state-led antitrust case against Google accuse the search giant of colluding with rival Facebook to manipulate online ad sales. The CEOs of both companies knew about the deal and signed it, the lawsuit states.

The original, redacted lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anticompetitive behavior” and collaborating with the social networking giant. However, the unedited version does provide details on the involvement of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in approving the deal. Facebook has since renamed itself Meta.

According to the lawsuit, in a 2018 email thread about the deal in which Facebook’s CEO was involved, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, “explicitly stated that ‘this is a big strategic thing.'” the suit, their titles are visible.

As the two sides worked out the terms of the agreement, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO Zuckerberg,” according to the lawsuit.

“We are almost ready to sign and need your approval to proceed,” the email reads, the complaint said. Zuckerberg wants to meet with Sandberg and his other executives before making a decision, the complaint said.

In a statement, Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit was “riddled with inaccuracies and lacked any legal basis.”

In September 2018, the complaint states, the two companies signed the agreement. Sandberg, who was once head of Google’s ad business, and Pichai personally signed the deal, according to the states’ complaint.

Meta spokesman Chris Sgro said Friday that the company’s ad bidding agreement with Google and similar agreements with other bidding platforms “have helped increase competition for ad placements.”

“These relationships allow Meta to deliver value to advertisers while rewarding publishers fairly, resulting in better outcomes for everyone,” Sgro said.

According to the lawsuit, Google internally used the code phrase “Jedi Blue” to refer to the 2018 agreement. Google has kept this code phrase secret.

Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s claim that Pichai agreed to the deal with Facebook was “not accurate.”

“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” he said, adding that the agreement “was never a secret.”

The lawsuit is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and has been joined by the Attorneys General of Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

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