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Adtech antitrust class action lawsuit against Google in the UK seeks up to $16.3 billion in damages

In the United Kingdom, hundreds of digital publishers have launched a lawsuit against Google and its parent company Alphabet with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, claiming up to £13.6 billion ($16.3 billion) in damages for Google’s claimed anti-competitive activity linked to its adtech practises (CAT).

According to a press statement detailing today’s submission at the CAT, “the lawsuit contends that Google misused its dominating position in the market for online advertising, making super-profits for itself at the cost of the tens of thousands of publishers of websites and mobile applications in the UK.”

The competitive class-action type complaint was launched earlier this autumn, and it includes a comparable European Economic Area (EEA) lawsuit in the Netherlands. One of the law firms interested in the case, Geradin Partners, has said that the multi-billion euro lawsuit covering the whole EEA would be submitted in the first quarter of 2023.

Harbour, a litigation funding company, is paying for the case, which is also being handled by Humphries Kerstetter, a law practise in the city.

While former U.K. media and communications regulator Ofcom director Claudio Pollack is listed as the claim’s lead counsel, representing the group of companies that have been harmed by Google’s practises.

The lawsuit will claim that Google has leveraged its monopoly on the adtech infrastructure to harm thousands of companies who have no option but to utilise Google’s products to earn money from advertising.

About 130,000 firms publishing about 1.75 million websites and applications in the United Kingdom are represented in the case, which says those businesses have been injured by Google’s anti-competitive tactics.

According to the economic research that was compiled to back up the allegation, Google’s actions may have caused a 40% decrease in advertising income for certain businesses.

For approximately 130,000 companies, the estimated total loss since January 1, 2014 is £13.6 billion.

According to the claimants, France’s competition watchdog took action against Google last year after concluding the company had abused its dominant position in the market for ad servers used by website publishers and mobile apps. The watchdog fined Google up to €220 million for a number of self-preferring abuses and extracted a number of interoperability commitments from Google.

The EU and U.K. competition regulators are still looking into Google’s adtech stack and other ad-related activities.

Despite this, it seems that European online and app publishers are not waiting for more regulatory smackdowns before suing Google in a class action type suit in an effort to compel the company to pay substantial damages for what the claims believe are “serious” anti-competitive conduct.

Pollack stated in response to the lawsuit, “The marketplace for internet advertising is smart, technological, and highly automated.” Advertising is purchased in a split second using a system that attempts to match the user’s demographic information with those of the promoted goods. In an ideal world, third-party platforms would function on both sides of the market, efficiently matching supply with demand. It is now widely accepted that the evolution of this market has predominantly benefited Google.

While the amount of the lawsuit we are pursuing is enormous, we feel the issue is about much more than money,” said Damien Geradin, founding partner of the eponymous legal company. Google has been blocking businesses throughout the globe, from the UK and Europe to the local newspapers and the publishers of community-focused websites, from making a sustainable living via advertising for years.

According to the authors, “a CAT suit may deliver at no expense to those parties adequate recompense, as well as calling Google to account.”

We reached out to Google to see if they had any thoughts on the matter. Previously, the business has described the lawsuit as “speculative and opportunistic.”

Google works constructively with publishers across Europe — our advertising tools, and those of our many adtech competitors, help millions of websites and apps fund their content, and enable businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers. These services adapt and evolve in partnership with those same publishers.

In spite of Google’s best efforts to paint the legal challenge as without merit, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has raised serious worries about dysfunction in the digital ad market, the inquiry into which it launched in 2019.

According to its final report, released in July 2020, Google and Facebook’s market dominance is so extensive that a new regulatory strategy (and dedicated oversight body) is required to address what it called “broad reaching and self reinforcing problems.”

A possible contributor to antitrust class action lawsuit is the failure of the United Kingdom government to introduce legislation to allow for such a restart.

However, the CMA is continuing to monitor Google’s proposed change to its adtech stack away from third-party cookie-based monitoring (known as its Privacy Sandbox proposal) after hearing new complaints from publishers who fear the change would further solidify Google’s position as the dominant player in the adtech industry.