Commentary

Daily Mail's Antitrust Suit Against Google Signals Bolder Stance By Publishers

The Daily Mail's owner this week filed an antitrust suit against Google, claiming the tech giant harms rivals by rigging bids in online ad auctions and manipulating search results. The litigation is another sign that publishers are getting bolder in their claims against Google, which is the target of several government antitrust suits.

"The lack of competition for publishers’ inventory depresses prices and reduces the amount and quality of news available to readers, but Google ends up ahead because it controls a growing share of the ad space that remains," according to the Daily Mail, which filed the suit in U.S. District Court in New York.

The publisher claims that since the beginning of the year, U.S. search traffic to its website dropped by more than 50%, a dramatic plunge. It accused Google of punishing publishers in search rankings for not selling enough ad space through the tech company's digital marketplace. The suit also accused Google of exploiting its dominance in the software that publishers and advertisers use to buy and sell online ad space to undercut competitors.
A Google spokesperson denied the allegations in a statement to The Wall Street Journal: “The Daily Mail’s claims are completely inaccurate. The use of our ad tech tools has no bearing on how a publisher’s website ranks in Google Search. More generally, we compete in a crowded and competitive ad tech space where publishers have and exercise multiple options.”
The Daily Mail also claims Google’s plan to end support for third-party cookies in its popular Chrome browser will make it harder for advertisers to target online audiences unless they use Google’s software. Google claims the plan is intended to give consumers more privacy controls.
The Daily Mail's complaint also shows that a Texas antitrust suit filed against Google last year is resonating throughout the publishing industry, despite the tech giant's denial of those claims. The Texas suit accused Google of harming publishers and advertisers with secret programs like "Project Bernanke" and a deal with Facebook code-named "Jedi Blue" to rig online auctions for ad space.

HD Media, the publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, cited the Texas suit in an antitrust claim it filed against Google and Facebook in January. The publisher alleged that the tech giants have manipulated the digital advertising market, draining billions in ad revenue away from newspapers.
Just this week, the publishers of 125 local papers either filed suit or announced plans to do so against Google and Facebook, claiming the "Jedi Blue" deal harmed competitors, Editor & Publisher reported.
It's possible the Texas suit against Google and Facebook will embolden more publishers to press claims against the tech giants. However, federal and state governments still have the most financial resources to litigate antitrust claims for the foreseeable future.

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