Google sued by more than 30 European media orgs over adtech

Meanwhile, the Google News Initiative is pushing AI tools for publishers

A group of more than 30 European media organizations has sued Google for €2.1 billion, seeking damages for lost revenue they say was caused by the search giant’s anticompetitive advertising technology.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of firms such as Germany's Axel Springer in the District Court of Amsterdam by European law firms Geradin Partners, and Stek.

The publishers contend that online publishing is less competitive as a result of Google's alleged misconduct. They argue that, but for Google's abuse of its market dominance, revenue from online advertising would be higher and the fees for adtech services would be lower.

The coalition's claims are based upon the 2021 finding by the French competition authority that Google favored its own advertising services in ways that harmed competitors. Google was fined €220 million as a result.

The present complaint also relies upon a statement of objections issued last June by the European Commission about Google's advertising business, and competition litigation helmed by the US Justice Department and State Attorneys General against the ad giant. A Google ad tech antitrust inquiry undertaken in May 2022 by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority is still underway.

"Enough time has been spent getting to the heart of Google's wrongdoing in ad tech which is now plain for all to see," argued Damien Geradin, founding partner of Geradin Partners. "It is high time that Google is held accountable for its abuses and compensates the victims – Europe's diverse and vital media sector."

Google maintains that its adtech offerings benefit European publishers.

"Google works constructively with publishers across Europe – our advertising tools, and those of our many adtech competitors, help millions of websites and apps fund their content, and enable businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers," Oliver Bethell, Google's legal director, told The Register. "These services adapt and evolve in partnership with those same publishers. This lawsuit is speculative and opportunistic. We'll oppose it vigorously and on the facts."

The lawsuit arrives amid a media meltdown brought on by the deprioritization of news distribution on social media, declining online traffic to news websites, shifting ad budgets, corporate layoffs, and other factors.

Evidence of the news crisis can be seen in the recent loss of hundreds of jobs at Vice Media and the layoffs at Engadget – to name only a few examples of shrinking staffs at once-thriving publishers.

Google has long had a contentious relationship with news organizations, dating back to 2006. That year, Copiepress, a Belgian/French/German newspaper trade group, sued Google News alleging that the news aggregation service violated the newspaper's copyright.

Google was found guilty of infringement in 2007, and that decision was later upheld in 2011. Google then removed Copiepress member links from Google News and Google Search, and visitor traffic declined. After some discussion, the news sites were restored to the Google Search index.

In 2018, Google launched the Google News Initiative – supposedly to help news organizations adopt more digitally focused business practices.

’Help’ now extends to Gen AI

According to AdWeek, Google's help now entails paying some publishers a five-figure sum to use an unreleased suite of generative AI tools designed to produce content.

"The beta tools let under-resourced publishers create aggregated content more efficiently by indexing recently published reports generated by other organizations, like government agencies and neighboring news outlets, and then summarizing and publishing them as a new article," AdWeek claims.

That makes it sound as if Google is supporting the creation of AI-authored content, rather than traditional news reporting that requires journalists. Google however dismissed the report as fanciful.

"This speculation about this tool being used to re-publish other outlets' work is inaccurate," a Google spokesperson told The Register. "The experimental tool is being responsibly designed to help small, local publishers produce high-quality journalism using factual content from public data sources – like a local government's public information office or health authority."

"Publishers remain in full editorial control of what is ultimately published on their site. These tools are not intended to, and cannot, replace the essential role journalists have in reporting, creating, and fact-checking their articles."

That suggests Google expects its tools to be used to generate summaries of public documents like government reports – which has implications for any news outlet inclined to assign that task to a human writer.

A year ago Google clarified – or tried to clarify – its AI content policy for Google Search. While AI can be used to automate the production of web spam, it can also produce helpful content, the search biz insists.

"Automation has long been used to generate helpful content, such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts," Google argued on its developer website. "AI has the ability to power new levels of expression and creativity, and to serve as a critical tool to help people create great content for the web." ®

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