All that’s redacted in the Texas lawsuit against Google

December 17, 2020, 3:36 PM UTC

That old expression that the second time is a charm may apply in antitrust. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine fellow AGs dropped a 130-page lawsuit against Google on Wednesday that’s quite a bit more interesting than the Justice Department’s lawsuit filed in October.

As you may have guessed from the page count, this one is a Texas-sized doozy of blockbuster allegations that Google has illegally monopolized each and every part of the market for digital advertising: the ad servers that host the ads, the exchanges where online publishers sell space for ads, the networks where advertisers list ads, and the tools everyone uses to help them manage the complex system in real time.

Unfortunately and bizarrely, the Texas complaint is riddled with redactions, those blacked-out lines of text that are typically used to shield proprietary or confidential information from the public. Here, every single internal Google email, memo, code name, joking code name, and quotation is redacted. For example:

In a couple of places, the AG’s complaint even blacks out its own legal reasoning. And at least twice, something is redacted in one part of the complaint but then revealed in a later part.

So, for your education, for your edification, and for your general amusement on a snowy day here in Boston, here is the gist of the Texas AG’s antitrust case against Google based on many of the redacted texts:

  • Google’s percentage share of the digital ad market
  • Number of ads Google’s ad servers process per day
  • The cut of every ad sale Google collects
  • Something a Google exec “frankly conceded” about the design of Google’s ad exchange
  • The true design goal of Google’s ad tool for small web sites
  • Google’s commission rate on ads from small advertisers
  • The percent of time customers using Google’s ad tools spend buying or selling ads from Google’s ad exchange
  • Something Google said to the FTC in 2008 about its ad server
  • Google’s estimate of the percent of online publishers using its ad server
  • Google’s description of publishers’ difficulties in switching to rival ad servers
  • Just how Google violated the privacy of WhatsApp users in “egregious ways”
  • The name of the team within Google’s New York office that designed a program called RPO to make ad bidding less competitive
  • The name of one of Google’s bid rigging programs
  • A screenshot of said bid rigging program
  • Something Google employees discussed at an October 13, 2016 meeting
  • The code name of a program Google developed to compete with a publisher-developed technique called header bidding
  • A Google slide deck about the pain caused by Facebook’s support of header bidding
  • An October 5, 2016 internal presentation to senior Google execs about Facebook and header bidding
  • Something Facebook VP Dan Rose told Mark Zuckerberg in an email about Google and header bidding
  • Details of an agreement Facebook and Google struck in 2018 allegedly to undercut header bidding
  • The Star Wars character Google used as an internal code name for the agreement
  • A word that appears 20 times in that agreement
  • The way Google’s mobile format, AMP, actually hurts publishers
  • Google’s strategy in withholding YouTube ad inventory from competing ad tools
  • Google’s name for a restricted access data set that combines information from its search ads, YouTube ads, and display ads
  • Google’s name for its scheme to arbitrage ad pricing
  • The name of Google’s future project to turn the entire web into a walled garden it controls
  • A summary document of the walled garden plan

It’s more than likely that this lawsuit will be consolidated with the DoJ one (and any subsequent lawsuits to come), or all will be tried before a common judge. And maybe that judge will order a few of these redactions removed. A reporter can hope! Have a great day and, if you’re on the East Coast, enjoy the snow.

Aaron Pressman


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