Thursday, October 28, 2021

Texas vs. Google Second Amended Complaint

Nick Heer (PDF, Hacker News):

Twelve U.S. Attorneys General, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, amended their suit against Google with fewer redactions and plenty more allegations than first seen ten months ago.

Keach Hagey and Tripp Mickle (via Hacker News):

Google takes a cut of 22% to 42% of U.S. ad spending that goes through its systems, according to a newly unredacted lawsuit by state attorneys general, shedding new light on how the search giant profits from its commanding position in the internet economy.

The share the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary takes of each advertising transaction on its exchange—a marketplace for ad buyers and sellers—is typically two to four times as much as the fees charged by rival digital advertising exchanges, according to the suit, which is being led by Texas.

Thomas Claburn (Hacker News):

Header bidding emerged around 2015 as a way to bypass Google’s control of the ad auction ecosystem and the fees it charged. By 2016, the court filing explains, about 70 per cent of major publishers were using header bidding to offer their ad space to multiple ad exchanges at the same time, not just Google, to get the best deal from advertisers.

“Google quickly realized that this innovation substantially threatened its exchange’s ability to demand a very large – 19 to 22 percent – cut on all advertising transactions,” the revised complaint says. “Header bidding also undermined Google’s ability to trade on inside and non-public information from one side of the market to advantage itself on the other – a practice that in other markets would be considered insider trading or front running.”

Initially, the amended complaint says, Google appeared to accommodate publishers by allowing them to use its servers to send their ad space inventory to be sold on more than one exchange at a time.

Patrick McGee:

Google’s response - “secretly made its own exchange win, even when another exchange submitted a higher bid,” complaint alleges.

The program’s name: Jedi.

Google’s own words: Jedi program “generates suboptimal yields for publishers and serious risks of negative media coverage if exposed externally.”

fasterthanlime (Hacker News):

google appears to have a team called gTrade that is wholly dedicated to ad market manipulation

Google had a plan called “Project NERA” to turn the web into a walled garden they called “Not Owned But Operated”. A core component of this was the forced logins to the chrome browser you’ve probably experienced (surprise!)

Patrick McGee (Hacker News):

Facebook and Google allegedly agreed on quotas for how often Facebook would win publishers’s auctions -- “literally manipulating the auction with minimum spends and quotas for how often Facebook would bid and win,” complaint alleges.

John Gruber:

Re: false claims about AMP performance (p. 90):

After crippling AMP’s compatibility with header bidding, Google went to market falsely telling publishers that adopting AMP would enhance page load times. But Google employees knew that AMP only improves the “median of performance” and AMP pages can actually load slower than other publisher speed optimization techniques. In other words, the ostensible benefits of faster load times for a Google-cached AMP version of a webpage were not 90 true for publishers that designed their web pages for speed. Some publishers did not adopt AMP because they knew their pages actually loaded faster than AMP pages.

The speed benefits Google marketed were also at least partly a result of Google’s throttling. Google throttles the load time of non-AMP ads by giving them artificial one-second delays in order to give Google AMP a “nice comparative boost.” Throttling non-AMP ads slows down header bidding, which Google then uses to denigrate header bidding for being too slow. “Header Bidding can often increase latency of web pages and create security flaws when executed incorrectly,” Google falsely claimed. Internally, Google employees grappled with “how to [publicly] justify [Google] making something slower.”

Tom MacWright:

google… intentionally slowed down non-amp ads to give amp a “comparative boost”?

Laurie Voss:

I don’t think enough has been made of the discovery that Google’s funding of AMP was an explicitly anti-competitive move designed to limit competition from other ad exchanges and what enormous damage this does to Google’s credibility with developers:

Google pushed AMP into a privileged place in search results and said it was a pro-consumer move to make the web faster. Publishers implemented it to get higher placement and in the process locked themselves into Google’s ad exchange. That boosted Google revenue at their expense.


Google got good people inside and outside of Google to commit to developing and propagating AMP and to buy in to the vision of making the web faster. But now we know that even the people who worked on AMP at Google were in the dark about its real purpose.

Anil Dash:

For non-developers, it may be hard to understand why this is such a big betrayal. But the bottom line is it fundamentally undermines the trust that so many had in Google’s technical motives, especially seeing their own devs (and developer advocates) apparently got duped too.

Many of us were skeptical about this particular technology for various implementation reasons (the stated goal of making web pages load faster is pretty non-controversial) but had been willing to believe that the motivation wasn’t solely anticompetitive. That’s dead now.

Patrick McGee:

In 2015, Google signed agreement with WhatsApp to give users option of backing up their messages.

Users were led to believe they were encrypted. They were not.

Google knew users were mislead.

Leah Nylen (Hacker News):

Google sought to use an August 2019 meeting with fellow tech giants Apple, Facebook and Microsoft to stall federal efforts to strengthen a children’s online privacy law, attorneys general for Texas and other states alleged in newly unsealed court documents on Friday.

Google also bragged about “slowing down” new privacy rules in Europe that would apply to digital services like services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s Skype, according to internal documents quoted by the states.


Update (2021-11-12): Sarah Gooding:

During an (AMA) live Q&A session with Chrome Leadership, ex-AMP Advisory Board member Jeremy Keith asked a question that echoes the sentiments of developers and publishers all over the world who are viewing Google’s leadership and initiatives with more skepticism:

Given the court proceedings against AMP, why should anyone trust FLOC or any other Google initiatives ostensibly focused on privacy?

The question drew a tepid response from Chrome leadership who avoided giving a straight answer.

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