New analysis offers roadmap to limit Google’s anticompetitive behavior in digital advertising

By Anamitra Deb and Gus Rossi, Responsible Tech, Omidyar Network

A path to more fairness, innovation, and responsible tech

Today, we unveiled the first in a series of policy papers containing detailed evidence and roadmaps for potential antitrust cases against several tech giants. The Roadmap for a Digital Advertising Monopolization Case Against Google, is the result of a collaboration between several antitrust experts who have been working in tandem to study competition issues in the digital marketplace and research the specific harms caused by tech giants:

  • Fiona Scott Morton, Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Economics at the Yale University School of Management and former deputy assistant attorney general for economics at the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division co-authored the first paper;
  • Our partners at the DC-based think tank, Public Knowledge; and
  • David Dinielli, a senior advisor at Omidyar Network and former special counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

Omidyar Network’s efforts are focused on ensuring that technology lives up to its promise, which at this point in time requires reining in the power of tech giants so competition, innovation, and responsible technology can thrive. Tech giants such as Google deliver widespread conveniences and value to their users through their significant reach, features, and services. But their unchecked market dominance, and their social and political power pose serious threats to our individual freedoms, economies, and democracies.

The paper presents robust evidence to support a potential antitrust case against Google based on its apparent dominant position and alleged anticompetitive conduct in the digital advertising market. Building upon public information gathered by the U.K.‘s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the paper shows that Google appears to have abused the apparent monopoly power of its search engine as a springboard to obtain unprecedented control and ownership at multiple points in the digital advertising “tech stack”. Their power spans search advertising (advertising that appears in response to a search on a search engine) and display advertising (advertising that shows up when a user opens a third-party website). Crucially, this paper uses multiple examples to underscore how Google has effectively taken over every function of the digital advertising space that connects advertisers to publishers, and used its data advantage, acquisitions, and market power to exclude its rivals, weaken original content providers, reduce transparency, and charge high prices. The authors not only showcase Google’s anticompetitive practices, they detail the specific harms to advertisers, publishers, and ultimately consumers.

Technology has undoubtedly made the way we work, play, and connect easier than ever. The services provided by Google and other technology platforms provide extraordinary benefits to consumers and to society. And we believe that precisely because this technology has become ubiquitous, unavoidable, and important for our lives, we need better rules of the road for large tech giants that are consolidating economic, social, and political power. We’ve all seen the recent collapse in trust in several digital platforms and technologies; this alone suggests the time has come to reset the tech industry, restore competition, and renew trust.

The world needs more than convenience from tech; we need it to be safe, just and compassionate for all. “Consumers deserve the best these types of services can offer, as do future consumers, who should inherit functioning digital markets; we can work to change these conditions today,” the authors conclude.

Omidyar Network supports the development and enforcement of competition policy because we believe platform accountability requires competitive markets. If done well, competition policy can result in more innovation, more responsible technology, and better outcomes for users. As this paper shows, this is not yet a reality in today’s digital advertising market. There’s nothing inherent in the technology that underpins the digital ad market or the market itself that requires the level of consolidation that Google seems to have. We call on the relevant US federal and state agencies, who are hard at work determining when and where anticompetitive practices and harms have occurred, to accelerate a full investigation and help establish a fair and responsible tech ecosystem.