Attorneys for Texas and other states alleged in newly unsealed court filings that Zuckerberg and Pichai "personally approved a secret deal that gave the social network a leg up in the search giant's online advertising auctions", reports Politico. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the group of state attorneys general released a new antitrust complaint against Google, giving more details into the company's alleged collusion with Facebook in programmatic ad markets.
The states originally filed the suit against Google in December 2020, and updated that with a heavily-redacted version in November last year. The initial complaint alleged collusion between the two tech giants, particularly in a project codenamed "Jedi Blue".
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The "Jedi Blue" deal was reviewed at the highest levels of both companies, with personal involvement from Pichai, Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Zuckerberg. In one email to Zuckerberg, Sandberg allegedly told the CEO "(t)his is a big deal strategically". According to the report that came out on Friday, the complaint said the team that negotiated the deal sent Zuckerberg an email telling him: "We're nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward."
"The 2018 deal gave Facebook possibly unlawful advantages when the social network used Google's advertising exchange, according to allegations by Texas, 14 other states and Puerto Rico in the latest version of their federal antitrust suit against Google," said the report.
Sandberg and a Google senior vice president signed the September 2018 agreement, the lawsuit claimed, adding that "Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally signed off on the terms of the deal". In a statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said: "AG Paxton's assertion isn't accurate. We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don't require CEO approval, and this was no different."
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Meta also denied that the arrangement was illegal. "Meta's non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements," Meta spokesperson Christopher Sgro said in a statement. The fresh case came amid antitrust actions against Google, including parallel antitrust cases focusing on search manipulation and its management of the Google Play Store. .