DOJ Sues Google for Efforts to Monopolize Digital Ad Markets

In the Department of Justice’s second antitrust case against Google LLC since 2020, its Antitrust Division and eight state attorneys general allege that the company used acquisitions and exclusionary strategies to keep its monopoly in the digital advertising technology market.

The 155-page complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Plaintiffs included the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia. The suit reflects the Biden administration’s promise to enforce antitrust laws against Big Tech. It is also the first antitrust case in which the DOJ has requested a jury trial to seek damages.

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The suit alleges that since 2008, Google engaged in anticompetitive conduct aimed at maintaining its market position in ad technology, the three-step series of computer transactions that occurs when an internet user opens a website. Called the “ad tech stack,” the process determines which ads the user will see in the various ad spaces on a particular website.

The DOJ asserts that Google began with acquisitions to increase its market position. These included the 2008 purchases of DoubleClick for Publishers (DCP), a tool used to connect to advertisers, and AdX, an ad exchange that held auctions between publishers and advertisers.

The suit also claims that exclusionary conduct followed, taking multiple forms. Google required advertisers and publishers to use AdX to access GoogleAds and DFP. In addition, Google allegedly configured GoogleAds to increase advertising pricing and manipulated auctions on AdX to enable Google to buy publisher inventory at lower prices before other ad exchanges.

The suit also alleges that Google used its position to eliminate competition by impeding other ad exchanges and platforms from achieving competitive scale. This depleted choice for both publishers and advertisers, negatively affecting innovation in the digital advertising industry.
Finally, the DOJ claims that Google’s behavior created higher prices and margins for its benefit at the expense of ad tech stack rivals.

All told, the DOJ seeks treble damages sustained by federal government agencies that overpaid for digital advertising, a declaratory judgment that Google has violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, and structural relief needed to remedy the harm, including the divestiture of Google’s DFP and AdX. Furthermore, the DOJ also seeks injunctive relief to enjoin Google from continuing the anticompetitive conduct alleged in the complaint.