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UK Publishers File £13.6 Billion Lawsuit Against Google Alleging Market Abuse

A group of 130,000 businesses publishing around 1,750,000 websites and applications in the UK have filed a lawsuit against Google and its parent company, Alphabet. The claim is being managed by law firms Humphries Kerstetter and Geradin Partners, who allege that “Google abused its dominant position in the market for online advertising, earning super-profits for itself at the expense of the tens of thousands of publishers of websites and mobile apps in the UK.”

The firms’ economic analysis of Google’s alleged anti-competitive behavior suggests that some companies may have had advertising revenues reduced by 40%. Although Google has been the subject of multiple regulatory investigations in the EU, UK, and USA, resulting in a €220m fine from French competition authorities, this claim aims to compensate publishers and recover losses through a competition class action lawsuit.

A statement published by Humphries Kerstetter details the focus of their investigations:

These competition investigations all focus on the same core facts. Google dominates the markets for ad tech services in the UK and across the world controlling up to 90% of the market in certain sectors. This allows Google to dictate terms, control pricing and, in some scenarios, enables it to favour its own platforms in the process by which advertisements are selected to be published.

The allegations of the competition claim are similar to the complaint brought by the US Department of Justice that alleges Google used AMP to impede header bidding and throttle the load time of non-AMP ads.

“The marketplace for online advertising is sophisticated, technical and highly automated,” Claudio Pollack, who is heading the UK publishers’ competition claim, said. “Advertising is sold in a fraction of a second in a process which is designed to match the product being advertised with the profile of an individual visiting a website. Third party platforms operate on both sides of the marketplace matching supply with demand and – in an ideal world – ensuring the market operates efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, it is now well established that this market has developed in a way that is primarily serving Google.”

A separate multi-billion Euro claim will be running in parallel in the EU, handled by a Dutch law firm in cooperation with Geradin Partners. They are seeking compensation for the alleged damage to small, local publishers who have struggled to stay afloat amid decreased advertising revenue.

“While the value of the claim we are bringing is substantial, we believe this matter is about much more than money,” Geradin Partners founding partner Professor Geradin said. “For years Google has been denying companies in the UK and Europe and beyond, including the local press and the publishers of community focused websites, the chance to earn a proper income by way of advertising. As well as bringing Google to account the parties who have lost out need proper compensation, something a CAT claim can achieve at no cost to those parties.”