EU and UK are investigating whether Google and Meta colluded over ads

US regulators previously launched a probe into 'Jedi Blue.'

Oscar Wong via Getty Images

The European Commission and UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have launched an antitrust investigation into the advertising deal between Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) codenamed "Jedi Blue." In particular, the organizations are looking into whether the tech giants colluded to hinder competition "in markets for online display advertising." The US Justice Department, backed by several states, is also investigating the deal between the two companies.

As the commission explains, Google provides an ad technology service that auctions off online display advertising space on websites and apps as part of its Open Bidding program. Meanwhile, Meta's Audience Network participates in those kinds of auctions for ad spaces facilitated by Google and rival services. CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said the organization is "concerned that Google may have teamed up with Meta to put obstacles in the way of competitors who provide important online display advertising services to publishers."

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, told The Financial Times that the commission suspects there may have been an agreement between the companies to "only to use Google services and not competing services." Vestager also told the publication, however, that the commission is investigating the possibility that Meta was unaware of the agreement's repercussions and that Google acted alone. "We have not concluded yet if it's a Google thing alone or if they were in it together. It's not a given that Meta was conscious of the effects of the deal and that's what we have to investigate," the commissioner said.

In addition to opening a probe into the Jedi Blue deal, the CMA is also scrutinizing Google's conduct as a whole in relation to ad bidding. The watchdog is investigating whether the tech giant abused its dominant position to gain an advantage over competitors offering bidding services.

Google previously denied that it colluded with Meta in a court filing, and a spokesperson echoed that in a statement sent to Engadget:

"The allegations made about this agreement are false. This is a publicly documented, procompetitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network (FAN) to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of other companies. FAN's involvement is not exclusive and they don't receive advantages that help them win auctions. The goal of this program is to work with a range of ad networks and exchanges to increase demand for publishers’ ad space, which helps those publishers earn more revenue. Facebook’s participation helps that. We're happy to answer any questions the Commission or the CMA have."

A Meta spokesperson also told us that the deal with Google is non-exclusive:

"Meta's non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements. These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all. We will cooperate with both inquiries."

If the CMA finds that the companies had violated competition law, they could be slapped with fines equivalent to 10 percent of their global revenues. As The Financial Times notes, though, the process could take years to complete.