Behind a Secret Deal Between Google and Facebook
Facebook was going to compete with Google for some advertising sales but backed away from the plan after the companies cut a preferential deal, according to court documents.
By Daisuke Wakabayashi and Tiffany Hsu
In 2017, Facebook said it was testing a new way of selling online advertising that would threaten Google’s control of the digital ad market. But less than two years later, Facebook did an about-face and said it was joining an alliance of companies backing a similar effort by Google.
Facebook never said why it pulled back from its project, but evidence presented in an antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 state attorneys general last month indicates that Google had extended to Facebook, its closest rival for digital advertising dollars, a sweetheart deal to be a partner.
Details of the agreement, based on documents the Texas attorney general’s office said it had uncovered as part of the multistate suit, were redacted in the complaint filed in federal court in Texas last month. But they were not hidden in a draft version of the complaint reviewed by The New York Times.
Executives at six of the more than 20 partners in the alliance told The Times that their agreements with Google did not include many of the same generous terms that Facebook received and that the search giant had handed Facebook a significant advantage over the rest of them.
The executives, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their business relationships with Google, also said they had not known that Google had afforded such advantages to Facebook. The clear disparity in how their companies were treated by Google when compared to Facebook has not been previously reported.
The disclosure of the deal between the tech giants has renewed concerns about how the biggest technology companies band together to close off competition. The deals are often consequential, defining the winners and losers in various markets for technology services and products. They are agreed upon in private with the crucial deal terms hidden through confidentiality clauses.
Google and Facebook said that such deals were common in the digital advertising industry and that they were not thwarting competition.
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