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Lawsuit Charges Facebook, Google Struck Deal To Ward Off Antitrust Probes

Facebook and Google are facing an array of antitrust lawsuits along with investigations by regulators in the U.S. and in Europe. Google has been hit by an antitrust lawsuit filed by a coalition of 38 state attorneys general, for example, while Facebook faces an antitrust lawsuit backed by 46 states and the Federal Trade Commission.

On Monday, (Dec 22), The Wall Street Journal reported additional details on a pact the two companies allegedly struck to “cooperate and assist one another” if they faced a probe into an advertising deal the two worked out. A lawsuit filed by 10 states last week (Dec. 16) against Google accuses the search giant of operating an illegal digital-advertising monopoly — and rigging its auctions in part through a pact with Facebook.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, alleges in 2017, as Facebook emerged as a advertising powerhouse, Google took notice. The result was that the two struck a deal saying that Facebook would limit its competitive activities — but then gain favorable treatment in Google’s ad auctions, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit is full of redactions. But the Journal was able to look at a draft copy of the suit without redactions.

The lawsuit, filed by 10 Republican attorneys general and led by Texas, allege the two companies made the deal in September 2018. The attorneys general argue that Facebook agreed it would not compete with Google’s online advertising tools — and in return, receive favorable conditions when it used them.

The draft version of the lawsuit said that the two Big Tech companies would “cooperate and assist each other in responding to any Antitrust Action” and “promptly and fully inform the Other Party of any Governmental Communication Related to the Agreement.”

A Google spokesperson said such agreements over antitrust threats are extremely common.

The draft lawsuit said Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in an email to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “This is a big deal strategically.”

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