HomeTechUK tribunal approves billion-pound lawsuit against Google's Ad Tech practices

UK tribunal approves billion-pound lawsuit against Google’s Ad Tech practices

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The lawsuit, brought by Ad Tech Collective Action in November 2022 on behalf of UK publishers, accuses Google of favouring its own advertising services over those of competitors. The claimants say this behaviour has led to financial losses for publishers.

Google is fiercely contesting these allegations. Last month, the company urged the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) in London to dismiss the case entirely. Google lawyers argued that the claims are “incoherent” and lack evidence of financial harm to publishers.

“Google’s impact in the ad tech industry has been hugely precompetitive,” they stated in the court documents.

In its ruling on Wednesday, CAT sided with Ad Tech Collective Action, paving the way for a potentially lengthy trial, expected to take place sometime after 2025.

The lawsuit centres on ad technology (adtech), the software that determines which online ads users see and how much publishers earn from displaying them.

Online advertising generates significant revenue for many websites, with Ad Tech Collective Action citing a figure of $490 billion spent on digital advertising in 2021. Google’s dominance in web search makes ad tech particularly lucrative for them.

Ad Tech Collective Action claims Google engages in “self-preferencing,” prioritising its own advertising products and services over competitors. This, they argue, leads to publishers receiving less money for ads and paying higher fees to Google.

“This is a decision of major importance to the victims of Google’s anti-competitive conduct in ad tech,” Claudio Pollack, a partner of Ad Tech Collection Action, told Reuters.

“Google will now have to answer for its practices in a full trial,” he added.

“I look forward to working with our legal and economic advisers to deliver compensation for years during which the relevant markets did not provide a competitive outcome for the UK publishing market,” Mr Pollack said.

The lawsuit is an “opt-out” class action, meaning all UK publishers are automatically included unless they choose to withdraw. It’s funded by an unnamed third party, with no participation fees for qualifying publishers.

If successful, the lawsuit could force Google to pay up to £13.6 billion in damages, a significant blow to its advertising revenue stream.

The lawsuit adds to Google’s growing legal woes. The company faces ongoing investigations by regulators in the UK, Europe, and the US regarding its ad tech practices. In March 2023, Google faced a legal challenge in the UK, seeking £3.4 billion in compensation from publishers for lost revenue.

In 2021, French competition regulator fined Google €220 million for unfairly favouring its own services in the online advertising realm. The US Department of Justice and a coalition of states have also filed separate lawsuits against the tech giant.

Also noteworthy is the fact that this isn’t the first time CAT has approved a major tech lawsuit. Earlier this year, the tribunal allowed similar class-action suits to proceed against Meta and Apple for alleged anti-competitive practices.

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