CMA investigates Google and Meta over ad tech concerns

March 15, 2022

The CMA is investigating Google and Meta over adtech concerns. It is focusing on whether the companies restricted or prevented the uptake of header bidding services and whether Google also affected the ability of other firms to compete with its products in this area.

Header bidding is a service which allows sellers, such as news publishers, to offer their online advertising space to multiple buyers at the same time, rather than receiving offers one by one. As a result, buyers – or advertisers – compete against each other for ad space and publishers can compare bids from multiple buyers simultaneously. This competition between buyers can make auctions more competitive.

As part of its investigation, the CMA will consider whether an agreement between Google and Meta (previously Facebook) – which Google internally codenamed “Jedi Blue” – breached competition law. The CMA is also scrutinising Google’s conduct in relation to header bidding services more widely to see if the firm abused a dominant position and gained an unfair advantage over competitors trying to provide a similar service.

This case follows on from the CMA’s market study into online platforms and digital advertising, which considered Google’s position in relation to header bidding services and the wider “ad tech stack” – of which heading bidding services is a part. The CMA has also received complaints in relation to Google’s conduct in this area.

The government has recently proposed powers for the Digital Markets Unit which will sit within the CMA. This unit will ultimately be responsible for deciding which ‘big tech’ firms face legally enforceable codes of conduct to govern their behaviour. In the meantime, the CMA is also investigating Apple’s App Store, Meta’s use of data and Apple and Google’s mobile ecosystems over competition concerns. It recently accepted commitments from Google relating to its proposed removal of third-party cookies from the Chrome browser. 

The agreement is also the subject of a complaint by the State of Texas (and other US states) currently in the US courts. The European Commission has also opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether an agreement between Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) for online display advertising services may have breached EU competition rules.

The CMA will seek to work closely with the Commission as the independent investigations develop.