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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were allegedly aware of and approved a deal to collaborate on the potential manipulation of ad sales, according to newly revealed documents.

The documents, which came to light on Friday, were filed as part of a lawsuit against Google brought by attorneys general from several US states. The lawsuit was first filed in December 2020 and claimed Google misled publishers and advertisers about ad auction pricing and process. At that time, many documents and portions of the trial were redacted, but court rulings have since made them public.

The lawsuit alleges Google maintained control of the ad sales market — a market it dominates — by inflating the price of brand ads and suppressing competition from other ad exchanges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the complaint alleges that “Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers an ad costs and used the mass of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly”. The documents further cite internal messages in which Google employees said it was as if they were using “inside information” to grow the company.

The Journal reported that the lawsuit also claims that the executives of Facebook, which recently rebranded as Meta, and Google signed an agreement to allegedly ensure that Facebook will bid on and win a certain percentage of ads.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was “explicit that ‘it’s a big deal strategically'” in a 2018 thread about the deal that included the Facebook CEO.

When the two parties defined the terms of the agreement, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, the lawsuit states.

If Pichai is found to have personally endorsed the deal, he can be found complicit in expanding Google’s advertising monopoly through manipulation. A Google spokesperson told the AP that while the deal was not a secret, it was inaccurate to say that Pichai had approved it.

“We sign hundreds of deals every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit was “full of inaccuracies and lacking in legal basis.”

Meta spokesman Chris Sgro said Friday that the company’s ad auction deal with Google and similar deals it has with other auction platforms “helped increase competition for advertising placements”.

“These business relationships allow Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while compensating publishers fairly, which translates to better results for everyone,” Sgro said.

The new details come as tech companies face increasing scrutiny over allegedly anti-competitive practices. A US judge ruled earlier this week that the government could file a lawsuit seeking to break up Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, in a bid to loosen its grip on the market. And on Friday, a group of nearly four dozen states sought the reinstatement of a separate antitrust lawsuit against the company.

Google, meanwhile, faces its own monopoly charges from the US government. Google has denied the charges.

theguardian Gt

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