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September 13, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:16am

Adtech monopoly legal action versus Google could reap UK publishers £7bn

By William Turvill

A European law firm has announced plans to file a €25bn (£22bn) adtech lawsuit against Google on behalf of news publishers in the UK and EU.

Geradin Partners, headquartered in Brussels, believes that the US technology giant has “deprived [media organisations] of billions of revenues through anti-competitive conduct”.

Lawyers and economists working on the claims believe UK publishers alone could be owed £7bn in compensation.

Damien Geradin said: “Publishers, including local and national news media who play a vital role in our society, have long been harmed by Google’s anticompetitive conduct.

“It is time that Google owns up to its responsibilities and pays back the damages it has caused to this important industry.

“That is why today we are announcing these actions across two jurisdictions to obtain compensation for EU and UK publishers.”

The firm, which specialises in competition law, is working with economists from Charles River Associates on the action, and says it has secured backing from Harbour, a litigation funder.

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In the UK, Geradin has teamed up with litigation firm Humphries Kerstetter to bring a damages claim in the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal. It will be an opt-out claim, meaning publishers are included unless they ask not to be.

Geradin said the UK claim will focus on recovering compensation from lost revenue – estimated to be £7bn in value – from the sale of advertising space on websites.

Toby Starr, partner at Humphries Kerstetter, said: “This important claim will represent a class of victims of Google’s anti-competitive conduct in ad tech who have collectively lost an estimated £7bn.

“This includes news websites up and down the country with large daily readerships as well as the thousands of small business owners who depend on advertising revenue – be it from their fishing website, food blog, football fanzine or other online content they have spent time creating and publishing.”

In the EU, Geradin is working with Stek, a Dutch law firm. Stek’s Jan Bart van de Hel said: “Many publishers have suffered damages as result of Google’s wrongful actions. It is important to take action against this, not only to make sure that the damages of the publishers are fully compensated, but also to make sure that Google’s anticompetitive conduct is prevented for the future.”

A Google spokesperson said: “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. These services adapt and evolve in partnership with those same publishers. This lawsuit is speculative and opportunistic. When we receive the complaint, we’ll fight it vigorously.”

Last year, the French Competition Authority ruled that Google, owned by Alphabet, had abused its position of dominance in the adtech sector. Geradin acted for complainants in this case.

In 2021, Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers began a legal action against Google in the US claiming its dominant advertising technology was ripping off publishers.

The Daily Mail said at the time: “News publishers do not see the growing ad spending because Google and its parent Alphabet unlawfully have acquired and maintain monopolies for the tools that publishers and advertisers use to buy and sell online ad space.

“Those tools include the software publishers use to sell their ad inventory, and the dominant exchange where millions of ad impressions are sold in auctions every day. Google controls the ‘shelf space’ on publishers’ pages where ads appear, and it exploits that control to defeat competition for that ad space.

“Among other tactics, Google makes it difficult for publishers to compare prices among exchanges; reduces the number of exchanges that can submit bids; and uses bids offered by rival exchanges to set its own bids — a de facto bid rigging scheme.”

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