Prosecutors have accused Google and Facebook of forging a pact to help defend each other against antitrust complaints, a new report says.
The allegation was revealed in the unredacted version of an antitrust lawsuit brought against Google last week by the attorneys general of Texas and nine other states, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Republican AGs have accused the tech titans of making an “unlawful agreement” in which Google gave Facebook a leg up in its online ad auctions in exchange for the social network backing down from its competitive threats.
According to the unredacted complaint, the deal — which was given the “Star Wars”-themed codename “Jedi Blue” — included a provision in which the companies pledged to “cooperate and assist each other in responding to any Antitrust Action” and to “promptly and fully inform the Other Party of any Governmental Communication Related to the Agreement,” the Journal reported early Tuesday.
The suit also alleges that the 2018 contract was signed by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote an email to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other bosses saying, “This is a big deal strategically,” according to the paper. The public, redacted version of the lawsuit reportedly didn’t mention Sandberg’s name.
The Texas-led suit is one of three antitrust cases Google is facing, along with one the US Justice Department filed in October and another from 38 state and territorial AGs that was filed last week. Facebook has likewise been slapped with antitrust complaints by the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states.
Both Google and Facebook disputed the allegations in the Texas suit. Google called Texas AG Ken Paxton’s claims about its ad technology “inaccurate” and denied that it manipulates its ad auction.
“In fact, Facebook participates in several similar auctions on rival platforms,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “And the idea that this was a secret deal is just wrong. We’ve been public about this partnership for years.”
Facebook told the Journal that its ad bidding agreements create benefits for publishers, advertisers and small businesses.
“Any allegation that this harms competition or any suggestion of misconduct on the part of Facebook is baseless,” a Facebook spokesperson told the paper.