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EU, UK antitrust bodies open probe into 'Jedi Blue' deal

March 11, 2022

The European Commission and the UK's Market Authority each launched an investigation to see if a 2018 deal between Google and Meta aimed at distorting competition in the digital ad business.

Google Logo und EU Flag
Google has adamantly denied manipulating the ad marketImage: Metin Aktas/AA/picture alliance

The European Commission and UK regulators on Friday each opened an antitrust investigation into a 2018 deal between Google and Facebook owner Meta Platforms that allegedly aimed at establishing their dominance over digital advertising.

The US government filed an antitrust lawsuit in October 2020, accusing Google of maintaining 'illegal monopoly' in online search and advertising. 

Google internally referred to the agreement as 'Jedi Blue,' a reference to the color of the Facebook logo, according to the lawsuit filing.

In January 2022, US court documents revealed that top bosses of Google and Facebook were involved in signing off the deal.

What did regulators say?

The European Commission said it was investigating the 'Jedi Blue' agreement to see if it had been used to 'restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated tech market.'

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the aim of the agreement may have been to "target ads technology competing with Google, trying to weaken it and exclude it from displaying ads on publisher’s websites & apps."

That means the aim of the agreement, if confirmed, would have been to distort competition by squeezing out rivals.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also launched its own investigation into 'Jedi Blue' and the two authorities would "closely cooperate," the European Commission said.

CMA's Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli added they would "not shy away from scrutinizing the behavior of big tech firms… working closely with global regulators to get the best outcomes possible."

Google, Meta defend deal

Google on Friday said that allegations made about the agreement were false. 

"This is a publicly documented, procompetitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network (FAN) to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of othercompanies," the company said in a statement.

Facebook said Meta's "non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with our bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements."

Both tech giants have faced intense scrutiny over online advertising, with France fining the two more than 210 million euros ($231 million) combined this January over their use of cookies that store data for targeted ads, among other things.

rm/kb (Reuters, AFP)

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