Where's my money?! Now USA Today publisher sues Google over online advertising

That ads to hurt

American newspaper publisher Gannett is throwing its weight behind the hottest trend in digital advertising: suing Google for unfairly and abusively monopolizing the entire industry. Allegedly.

Gannett, which most famously publishes USA Today, joins multiple US states and the federal government, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority, the EU and even Google's own shareholders, in suing the Chocolate Factory for exploiting its dominance of the online advertising industry.

Even the arguments raised by the news giant are mostly the same, making the federal antitrust suit [PDF] Gannett filed in New York City today feel like another log on a large bonfire – one that might lead to the break-up of Google's digital ads empire.

Internet advertising, Gannett's lawyers argued in their case, should have been a windfall for publishers shifting from print to online because it would allow the selling of millions of advertising slots alongside content. Since 2009, the suit claims, online advertising has had a ninefold increase in earnings, turning it into a $200 billion industry.

"Despite the opportunity for publishers to produce more news content and earn more revenue, news publications' advertising revenue has declined by nearly 70 percent over the same timeframe," Gannett complained in the lawsuit. 

The reason behind that lack of earning? "Publishers do not see the growing ad spending because Google and its parent Alphabet unlawfully have acquired and maintain monopolies for the advertising technology ('ad tech') tools that publishers and advertisers use to buy and sell online ad space," the suit alleged. 

In other words, the game is rigged against publishers to fill the coffers of advertising platforms, such as Google's, allegedly. Gannett claimed in its lawsuit that Google made more than $30 billion in 2022 by manipulating auctions for online ad spaces – six times more than the entire US news publishing industry made from digital ads. 

How it does that, as alleged, is likely familiar to anyone who has read up on Google's advertising practices: the Chrome titan owns the dominant publisher ad server, DoubleClick for Publishers, and the dominant ad exchange, DoubleClick Ad Exchange (AdX), and uses the pair to "defeat competition among exchanges and drive down prices for publishers' [ad] inventory," the Gannett suit alleged.

Gannett also called Google out for earning money on the backs of publishers by reusing content without passing along ad revenue, something the Canadian government has taken notice of, too. 

Welcome to the Google ad tech litigation club

As noted above, Gannett is just the latest link in a growing chain of lawsuits accusing Google of abusing its ad tech dominance, most of which make the same basic allegations, namely that "Google controls both sides of the adtech market: sell and buy," and that "it may have abused its dominance to favor its own AdX platform," as articulated by EU Commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager.

Google has also been accused by Uncle Sam of destroying evidence in a federal case against Alphabet's ad arm.

While Europe, the US federal government, and some states have called for Google to be forced to sell its Ad Manager suite, which includes DoubleClick and AdX, Gannett stops short of calling for the company's breakup in its request for a jury trial.

We'll show the court how our advertising products benefit publishers

That said, the seven-count case, which includes five charges of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act along with common law fraud and violations of New York business law, does ask the court to enjoin Google from continuing to violate the Sherman Act. What that could mean outside of an Ad Manager split is unclear. Gannett has also demanded damages and more from Google.

Dan Taylor, VP of Google Ads, told The Register Gannett's claims are "simply wrong" because publishers have a variety of advertising tech options, several of which Taylor said Gannett makes use of. Taylor also told us that publishers using Google ad tools keep the vast majority of their revenue. 

"We'll show the court how our advertising products benefit publishers and help them fund their content online," Taylor said.

Well, be as that may, Gannett claimed in its lawsuit that DoubleClick controls more than 90 percent of the ad server market, while AdX controls more than 60 percent of the ad exchange market. Gannett alleged that the next highest exchange competitor serves only six percent of its impressions, 54 percent fewer than AdX.

"With control over the largest ad exchange and ad server — both of which Google acquired rather than developed — Google has carried out a sophisticated, anticompetitive, and deceptive scheme for well over a decade," Gannett argued. ®

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