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US states' antitrust lawsuit against Google's advertising business keeps growing

Texas and pals are back with more details of Chocolate Factory's alleged efforts to unfairly rig the online advertising world

More than a dozen US states have filed yet another amended complaint against Google to include what they say is more evidence of the web giant abusing its dominant position in online advertising.

The legal spat spearheaded by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is an ambitious attempt to crack down on the super-corporation. Together, 16 states plus Puerto Rico have repeatedly amended their lawsuit to include more evidence that support their claims Google has violated the Sherman Antitrust Act to establish and maintain control of the online advertising industry.

"Just because Attorney General Paxton asserts something doesn’t make it true. This lawsuit is riddled with inaccuracies," a spokesperson for Google told The Register.

"There is vigorous competition in online advertising, which has reduced ad tech fees, and expanded options for publishers and advertisers. We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court."

The latest filing, for one thing, includes more details of Google's so-called Project Bernanke, which was named after the former US Federal Reserve chairman and is described as a secret internal program starting in 2013.

Under Project Bernanke, it is claimed, Google relied on data it amassed from its position in the ad-tech world to ensure adverts booked via its ad system AdX would come out on top of auctions for ad space on websites. These auctions would include bids placed via third-party platforms and tools, which were at a disadvantage by not having access to the information Google had. Google didn't tell anyone about this data use, and that amounted to insider trading, the states claimed.

In just the first year of launch, the Bernanke program alone generated an extra $230m in revenue, the redacted filing [PDF] stated. The lawsuit also claimed the system was upgraded to something called Global Bernanke in May 2015, and that a third version, dubbed Bell, brought in a further $140m a year.

“AG Paxton mischaracterizes one of many improvements Google Ads has made to optimize advertiser bids,” the Google spokesperson continued to tell us.

“This was entirely implemented by Google Ads for buyers, using the kinds of data and strategies that are available to any buyer participating in an Ad Exchange auction. Like many other businesses, we constantly work to improve our products and compete more effectively. That's the kind of behavior that increases competition and makes ads more effective for businesses large and small.”

The antitrust allegations against the internet titan have ballooned to about 250 pages, all in all accusing Google of resorting to various underhand tactics and striking up dodgy deals with other large orgs over the years. A version of the lawsuit filed in October, for example, brought up Jedi Blue, in which Google and Facebook allegedly colluded to "identify users using Apple products," and set up "quotas for how often Facebook would win publishers’ auctions."

It hasn't been the greatest of times for Google on the antitrust front. Last week, the EU's General Court rejected the Chocolate Factory's appeal against a $2.7bn fine for favoritism toward its own online shopping services. If confirmed by the European Court of Justice, the record fine would constitute roughly 13 days of profit Google made in its latest quarter. ®

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