A new opt-out collective proceedings claim has been brought against Google in the Competition Appeal Tribunal on behalf of publishers that sell advertising on their websites – from large news organisations to individuals who host advertising on their blogs.
Different users may be shown different ads when viewing the same webpage, and the sale of display ads typically takes place through online auctions run in the fraction of a second between when a user clicks to open a webpage and the webpage content opens. Advertisers bid in the light of what is known about the relevant user, such as their purchase or browsing history.
The technology used to manage this process is known as ‘ad tech’. The claim alleges that Google has abused its dominant position in ad tech markets, by engaging in unlawful self-preferencing. Specifically, the claim alleges that Google’s publisher ad server, which manages the sale process on behalf of publishers, treated its own ad exchange, which runs the auctions, more favourably than rival ad exchanges, and vice versa.
The claims are standalone (rather than follow-on), but the allegations of abuse heavily overlap with findings made by the French Competition Authority in an infringement decision of 7 June 2021. In addition, many of the allegations are supported by findings made by the CMA in its online platforms and digital advertising report.
The claims seek damages of up to £13.2bn to compensate a class of claimants estimated to be as large as 130,000.
They are instructed by litigation specialists Humphries Kerstetter. Also instructed are Geradin Partners, a specialist competition law practice, and Charles River Associates, both of which have extensive experience in ad tech markets from their involvement in the UK and French investigations. The claim is funded by Harbour.