Regulators are considering dissolving Google’s empire, including a forced sale of its dominant web browser, Google Chrome, and certain aspects of its ad tech stack.
A Politico report cites multiple sources with knowledge of the discussions taking place as the US Department of Justice and several attorneys general prepare to file lawsuits against the online giant.
Official trials are expected to take place within weeks after months of speculation about how government officials are trying to cap Google’s dominance in online advertising from $ 130 billion a year – of which Google controls 37.2%.
According to GlobalStats, Google Chrome has a global market share of 66.3%. The ad stack, popularly known as DoubleClick, includes both buy-and-sell-side tools and the dominant ad-serving tool.
These tools, as well as Google’s “closed” operating model, have led many to accuse Google of exerting inappropriate control over all aspects of the online advertising market (see video below) and, in 2015, decided to block third-party advertisements. Buying tools from buying ad space on YouTube has received much criticism.
Google is also navigating a potential political minefield where third-party cookies are being rejected in Chrome. This could affect the efficiency of third party programmatic players in the web browser.
Some believe that Google’s ad stack has inherent biases.
Politico reported that recent discussions are separate from the DOJ’s efforts to combat Google’s dominance in the search engine market, an intervention many are expecting as soon as next week.
The latest media coverage comes within a week after the House Justice Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee released a 449-page report harshly criticizing Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
Recommendations in the report included that authorities impose “structural divisions”, either by forcing certain pieces of each company’s assets to be sold or by assuring that parts of their business are protected by a firewall. Further recommendations were rules to prevent “self-preference” and the promotion of “interoperability” with third parties and a revision of the M&A laws.
Speculation about the DOJ’s investigation has been increasing since early 2020. Google appointed Halimah DeLaine Prado as general counsel in August, and Attorney General William Barr has shown great interest in the case.
Adweek sources, some of which have consulted the DOJ as part of its research into Google’s dominance in the online advertising market, praised the depth of research in the latest congressional report.
However, the question that arises is whether politicians will ever be able to match the technical sophistication of Big Tech’s engineers when it comes to effectively monitoring self-imposed restrictions offered by Google.
Earlier this year, a survey by consultancy AdProfs of 143 ad tech experts found that only a quarter of respondents thought Google would voluntarily sell some of its assets and be more likely to suggest restrictions on how its stack of ads works.
At Adweek’s NexTech virtual conference on the same day that the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appeared before the subcommittee of Congress behind last week’s report, Professor Scott Galloway said, “They need to be resolved.”
“I think you need to sell the old DoubleClick unit,” said Galloway, “and I realize this is untangling some spaghetti and I think you need to turn around [off] Youtube. … I just think their engineers are smarter than our regulators. “
Google’s olive branch
Last week’s congressional report criticized the oversized effect big tech had on traditional publishers as advertisers’ budgets increasingly dominated.