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Search ‘Antitrust’ And You’ll Find Google, Now Sued By Daily Mail

Google finds itself in hot water yet again – this time over potentially fudging search results depending on which publishers are best lining its pocket.

The owner of the Daily Mail has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google in Manhattan federal court, alleging that the company manipulates the order in which search results appear, prioritising content based on how much publishers spend on advertising with the search engine giant.

“This lawsuit is to hold Google to account for their continued anti-competitive behaviour, including manipulation of ad auctions and news search results, bid-rigging, algorithm bias and exploiting its market power to harm their advertising rivals,” a Daily Mail spokesperson said in a statement.

According to the spokesperson, Google has suppressed the publication’s coverage of royal family drama this year, claiming that content has not shown up prominently in search results for such keywords as ‘Meghan and Harry’ and ‘Prince Philip’.

In support of the allegation, a Google search of ‘Piers Morgan’ – a columnist for the Daily Mail – garners results from the Guardian, the Independent and other news outlets before the writer’s own publication, the spokesperson said.

The UK-based site, which has 75 million unique monthly visitors in the US, earns 80 per cent of its revenue from website adverts — 99 per cent of which are sold on exchanges.

The lawsuit says that Google has monopolised the system by unlawfully controlling over half the exchange market and 90 per cent of the software used to sell the online ads, which has become a US$125 billion industry.

“Google manipulates the process of real-time bidding to exclude rival exchanges, underpay for publisher inventory and ultimately reduce the quality and quantity of online news,” Daily Mail’s suit alleges.

In a bid to break free of Google’s stronghold and redirect profits away from the tech company, the Daily Mail changed the way it sold ads. The move increased the Daily Mail’s online ad revenue by 124 per cent. Google retaliated and filed charges.

In June 2019, the Daily Mail mysteriously disappeared from Google results after the search engine rolled out a new “Core Algorithm Update.”

The search engine manipulation went on for three months until Google allegedly forced the publisher to sell twice as much ad inventory on its exchange, even though the company was paying the Daily Mail half as much for each ad slot, the suit alleges.

“Typically, these modifications are made unannounced and with no transparency,” the court papers state.

The suit against Google, which powers 88 per cent of website searches, seeks unspecified damages and court intervention to halt the company’s alleged misconduct.

Google is already facing antitrust lawsuits from the Justice Department and several attorneys general over alleged search monopolies.

The tech giant continues to deny any wrongdoing.

“The Daily Mail’s claims are completely inaccurate,” said a Google spokesperson. “The use of our ad tech tools has no bearing on how a publisher’s website ranks in Google Search. More generally, we compete in a crowded and competitive ad tech space where publishers have and exercise multiple options.

“The Daily Mail itself authorises dozens of ad tech companies to sell and manage their ad space, including Amazon, Verizon and more. We will defend ourselves against these meritless claims.”

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