The European Union and the UK announced on Friday that they are opening formal antitrust investigations into whether Meta Platform Inc.’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google’s online display advertising services violate the bloc’s competition rules.
The European Commission and the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority said they are concerned that the once-secret 2018 deal between Google and Facebook, known as Jedi Blue, could thwart ad tech competitors.
“Via the so-called ‘Jedi Blue’ agreement between Google and Meta, a competing technology to Google’s Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps,” European antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
“Many publishers rely on online display advertising to fund online content for consumers,” Vestager said. If the EU’s concerns are confirmed “it would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market, to the detriment of rival ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers.”
Both Google and Meta objected to the potentially anticompetitive characterization of their deals. Neither said it was a special deal, and Google said Meta didn’t get special treatment compared to other partners.
“The allegations made about this agreement are false. This is a publicly documented, pro-competitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of other companies,” Google said in a statement.
The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority said that it is investigating whether “Google’s conduct may have affected the ability of other firms to compete with its header bidding product.”
Meta said “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.”